Sunday, March 21, 2010

Stone Skippers

Boys and rocks and water. What more do you need? There's something about that combination of ingredients that is unlike any other. The locations where the ingredients are combined may vary. But in the end when it comes to skipping stones, location is totally inconsequential.

This weekend, the location happened to be on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay---not bad as real estate goes. On Saturday morning a small but determined group of Sacramento Scouts ferried across from Tiburon to Ayala Cove on the island. With our backpacks securely strapped on, our party of 11 made the short hike to the Kayak Group campsite on the west side of the island. After setting up camp, the water's edge was calling and all in our group answered that siren's call.

The adults among us mostly enjoyed the momentary respite from the weekly grind as small, wake-driven waves lapped at the narrow rock-strewn beach. But the boys? Well, for anyone who might declare that imagination is dead, this day told a different tale. Each Scout became an instant expert in the fine art of stone skipping.

What makes a good skipping stone, anyway? Is it a particular rounded edge that cradles perfectly in the curve between index finger and thumb? Must it be thin and flat? How large should it be? Too heavy and the toss results in a resounding "SPLOINK!" Too small and whatever happens is just not very satisfying. And almost intuitively, all stone skippers know shape is important for a great skip. Yes, you can almost skip anything once. But to get the repeating hops across the surface in rapidly increasing succession takes a shape within certain generally accepted tolerance limits.

But, ultimately, a good skip doesn't just depend on the stone. It also requires the right speed and the right angle, both of which are totally in the hands of the skipper. There's almost nothing worse than wasting a good skipping stone on an insufficiently serious toss. Rarely will a casual approach to skipping earm the accolades of one's fellow skippers. But a good skip is pure joy.

However, much like the short-lived laurels awarded to ancient Olympians, a record breaking skipping toss is transitory and in the moment. Judging is instantaneous by those present and not subject to review. To witness a great toss is its own reward. In fact, even being lucky or attentive enough to see a great toss, sets one apart from those who might have missed it either because they weren't present or simply because they blinked or looked away at an inopportune moment. Yet even the declaration of a record-breaking toss is sufficient to lay down the gauntlet to all others who might attempt to best it.

And so, as boys have done for as long as there have been rocks and water, our Scouts followed suit on this March day on Angel Island, California. They joined all past, present and future skippers, bound in silent brotherhood, standing at water's edge, searching for just the right stone to fling with just the right speed, at just the right angle, hoping to catch the most air or the most bounces across the surface.

Such is the way of the stone skippers.


  1. I've never been to Angel Island, but it sure sounds nice. Now if only I could perfect my own stone-skipping skills...

  2. Your post brought back such memories of time spent with my dad and siblings on our camping trips. We held competitions as to who could make their stone skip the most.