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The Trickle - Abundant Skips

September 5, 2013 - Brian Ferry
So, there we were, three generations of us, in Franklin, at the confluence of the Allegheny River and French Creek. Waiting to throw rocks.

The Rock in River Festival gave us the chance to shine by bouncing rocks repeatedly off of water. An odd thing, if you think about it.

My eldest was the first of the youth skippers to compete. I believe it was his second stone of a Chukker of six. My former English teacher declared it a 26. Good enough to qualify for the professional competition later on (Alex had already qualified for that by going pro last year) and his best throw in two years of competition.

As the results of each participant's throws were broadcast, Alex stayed in first. He was eventually declared the winner of the youth competition. He got a big box of fudge - about half peanut butter and half chocolate.

Next up was the amateur competition. My dad was close to the front of the line. He hadn't practiced with us the couple times we were out this year and maybe he was rusty. He threw a couple of 22s, if I recall. That's a whole bunch of skips. I may have topped that once or twice in the waters of Warren County. That would have been good enough to go pro last year, but organizers raised the bar to 25 this year.

I followed shortly thereafter.

The water was amazing. It looked like glass for maybe 50 yards.

The wind was calm.

I had put some effort into collecting good stones and some thought into the size and heft of the stones I would throw. I decided months before that heavier stones would hold their rotational momentum better than lighter stones as they hit the water over and over. I'll have to check with some engineers on that one. (Anyone?)

It seemed to work. I put down a 29 among those six throws. I was happy. The nine-year-old hadn't beaten me. A year before, at eight, he'd skipped just as many times as I had - 23. He had gone pro. I hadn't. I'd had enough of competing with him for a day.

I was happy with the 29, I suspect it was the best skip of my life to that point. But I couldn't help being a little disappointed. That's awfully close to 30. Why couldn't I get a 30? Did the judge really think I had skipped a 29 or was he estimating? If estimating, why not estimate one higher?

After the amateur division, we had a nice long break. The boys played in the creek, catching crayfish, throwing rocks, soaking. Liam rode (not paddled) a kayak for several minutes. He didn't look happy about it, but he seemed proud afterwards. He also got to check out the petting zoo.

When the offer of autographs from the top pros went out, Alex was too busy. Then, after they announced that the signers were closing up shop, he decided to run up there. World Record holder Russ "Rock Bottom" Byars, who will skip stones for fudge (according to his skipping shirt), signed a nice, flat rock for Alex. He put a 51 next to the signature. That's the record number of skips. He also complimented the boy who had just twirled a 26, saying he should be asking for Alex's autograph. Maybe next time, Rock Bottom.

When they called the pros, I was nervous. Alphabetically, we were in the top third of the 25 entrants. That worked for me. Get it over with quickly.

Each pro skipped two rocks per turn.

Alex didn't light up the scoreboard on his first turn. He saved his best for later.

I had the best throw of the division for several minutes. I was even beating Byars. My first round 30 - yep, I got into the 30s - held up until defending champion Kurt "Mountain Man" Steiner left me far behind with a 40.

That score came in second, but I didn't come in third. Several other skippers surpassed my 30 and I didn't better it. David "Spiderman" Ohmer launched a rock that just kept going. The judges assigned him a 43. You might be skeptical, but that stone went a long way, was on top of the water for a long time, and did a lot of skipping while it was out there. Third place was Greg Winger with 36. So I wasn't all that far out of the fudge.

The pressure was off after my first round. I certainly didn't expect to challenge Steiner's 40. I didn't think I had much chance of beating my initial 30. I also didn't think Alex would beat me.

He managed to make me very nervous.

His top throw, during his final pair of rocks, was a 29.

The commentator - Eric Steiner (I don't know if he's related to Mountain Man) - asked if I could beat that. I told him I already had. He said, "No, this round." I knew I didn't need to. Alex is a competitor, but he's also a numbers guy. My previous 30 would stand.

I do have to wonder how long I'll be able to keep that up. He's getting bigger and stronger. I might be getting bigger, but I'm not getting stronger.

To end my day, I let fly with a couple of run-of-the-mill throws. I believe all of my throws, except the 30, were between 15 and 23.

In the end, Alex finished right in the middle of the 25-professional field. His 29 with a second best of 22 or so landed him in 13th.

With only one more skip, I managed to move up two spots and finished 11th.

Neither of us took home fudge in the pro division. And, I didn't get to share any of the boy's from the youth championship. At the beginning of the pro competition, he had made me promise that I would share mine with him. He was convinced I would finish in the top three. I wasn't too worried. I would have been very surprised - and pleased - to have to pay up.

The Ferry family, from over-70 to under-10, fared quite well at the 2013 Rock In River.

Still, none of us has been assigned a fancy skipping nickname yet, so we aren't full members of the community. Maybe that will change next year.

Then again, if Air-Tight Alibi is an example of what's available, maybe I'm not in a hurry.


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