July 7, 2011

Off Beat: Skip it if you dare

A Boothbay Harbor contest that started among family now draws a throng of arch-rivals and spectators.

By Shannon Bryan sbryan@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

Rocks don't appear to do much. Mostly they lounge on creek bottoms or sun their hard faces in the gaps between the hedges in the front yard.

click image to enlarge

A skipper lets fly in last year's competition.

Courtesy photo

INTERNATIONAL STONE SKIPPING CONTEST

WHEN: 1 p.m. Saturday; same-day registration at noon

WHERE: The shore next to the Boothbay Harbor footbridge

HOW MUCH: $5 suggested donation for adults; $1 for children; all donations go to the Boothbay Region Food Pantry

INFO: www.ornescandystore.com; 633-2695

They're Earth's lazy grandkids, taking up space on footpaths and riverbanks, occasionally rousing themselves to get wedged into a hiker's shoe or to beat scissors in a few rounds of a hand game.

But there is work to be found for an enterprising stone. They can be hollowed out to hide house keys, for example, or used to weigh down evidence tossed into an area pond.

Rocks make great pets -- or a burial marker for a great pet -- and they can be the start of a hearty soup for anyone who finds himself friendless and starving in a small French village.

But the best stones -- the ones that have been tumbled in rivers and seas until their bulbous forms have been worn flat -- can find glory walking on water. Or perhaps I should say "skipping."

A host of rocks will have their potential tested this weekend during the International Stone Skipping Contest in Boothbay Harbor. The event, now in its eighth year and organized by the owners of Orne's Candy Store, brings stone skippers and spectators to the water's edge to compete for the trophy and some rock-skipping glory of their own.

It started a decade ago as a family affair, according to Jean Webster, co-owner of Orne's Candy Store in Boothbay Harbor along with her husband, John, his brother Arthur Webster and Arthur's wife, Faith Foster.

"We used to do a picnic in East Boothbay right on the little cove," she said. "The end of our picnic was to have a rock skipping contest. Somewhere along the line my husband thought it would make a great event for the candy store."

"My sister-in-law and I originally rolled our eyes. We were thinking, 'What a pain in the neck!'"

But the idea persisted and in 2003 the first International Rock Skipping Contest was held in Boothbay Harbor. The organizers invited locals and candy story patrons to come toss a few stones around. And the locals did.

Since then, many continue to return -- with matching shirts, elaborate masks and occasionally a tutu. Quirky costumes, it seems, have become part of the tradition.

The contest is divided into categories for girls, boys, women and men, and the skippers are allowed three attempts each. The skips are counted by two judges, and what they say goes, said Webster. "You just have to trust what they say. There's really no other way."

Over the last seven years, winners have thrown rocks that skipped 20 times or more. In 2010, competitor Alex "Skip Masta" MacKay set the contest record with 28 skips, beating the previous record (also his) of 27.

No one's come close to breaking the world record: 51 skips, set in 2007 by Russell "Rock Bottom" Byars of Pennsylvania. But if locals continue to train, with a year-round stone-skipping regimen that includes craps shooting in the off-season to keep the arm muscles limber, it's really only a matter of time.

The competition continues to grow, too, with one recent year boasting more than 100 contestants. Anyone can enter in advance by signing up at Orne's Candy Store or by registering between noon and 1 p.m. the day of the contest.

But before everyone bum-rushes the shoreline, a few tips for new skippers:

Have a rock-skipping name. According to the event details, contestants cannot skip without one. I encourage puns.

Skippers are encouraged to BYOR (bring your own rocks).

The location for the rock-skipping contest has flat water but "no good rocks," according to Webster. Organizers will have some on hand, just in case.

"The type of rock is important," said Webster. "It should be a flat rock, maybe sort of rounded at the edges -- not anything square -- that you can hold in your hand comfortably."

Skippers should also practice their stance and their angling.

"Those of us in the family like to be in the water," Webster said. "I like to be in the water up to my ankles."

And while the competition is free to enter, organizers ask for a small donation from each entrant ($5 for adults, $1 for kids).

All the money goes directly to the Boothbay Region Food Pantry.

"We've ended up raising $300 to $500 a year with this event," said Webster. "People are very generous when they know what the event is for."

In addition to the winning title, the rock-skipping champions in each category also get rocky road fudge (a valuable prize -- Orne's is known for its fudge) and a trophy handcrafted by Arthur Webster using found items from the town dump.

But prestige goes to the rocks, too. The skipping stone is sort of the cream of the rock crop, after all, hand-picked for its ability to bound across the water's surface like an Olympic hurdler.

It's the stone skipper's duty to make that temporary triumph last as long as possible.

Staff Writer Shannon Bryan can be contacted at 791-6333 or at:

sbryan@mainetoday.com

 

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