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Skipping Stones for the Win

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Skipping Stones for the Win

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Skipping Stones for the Win

Skipping Stones for the Win

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Michele Norris talks with Eric Steiner, play-by-play announcer for the Mackinac Island stone-skipping contest, about the pro division of the 31st annual Mackinac Island stone-skipping contest. Russ "Rock Bottom" Byars of Franklin, Penn., bested the 10-person field with a record-setting 30 skips.


If you grew up anywhere near water chances are you've tried your hand at skipping stones, but you may not know that stone-skipping is more than just a hobby. It's a sport and every year on Independence Day storied stone-skippers from all over the country gather on Mackinac Island in northern Michigan to vie for the championship title. Eric Steiner provides play-by-play and he says today's conditions were perfect.

Mr. ERIC STEINER (Play-by-Play Announcer): The water was very calm. We had a few ferries coming in bringing tourists to the island where the professionals had to judge their rocks when they threw them, but the waters were calm on the island in the Mackinac Straits.

NORRIS: Professionals?

Mr. STEINER: We have professionals. We have Guinness Book record-holders here.

NORRIS: Ah, so they all have titles and they come out to--I was going to say strut their stuff, but I guess to skip their stones.

Mr. STEINER: They skip their stones.

NORRIS: Where do they get the stones?

Mr. STEINER: The stones are found on Windemere Point Beach or they can go ride anywhere on the island and look for the stones. They do have to be sanctioned by our judges. Our judges do look at the stones, make sure there isn't any oil on them or anything to make them slippery.

NORRIS: And that they're actually stones because I noticed in some stores you can actually buy these skipping stones that are made of resin or some sort of material that's not exactly rock.

Mr. STEINER: It do--it does have to be a stone, yes. It cannot be anything manmade.

NORRIS: Paint a picture for us. What's the competition look like? Is it--a group of professional are lined up there at the water's edge?

Mr. STEINER: Well, it all starts out at 10:00 in the morning where we first have amateurs. We invite kids from all ages, 13 and below, to win the Barney Rubble Cup, and then at noon we have all the pros come out. This year we had 10. We had three Guinness Book record-holders and it takes place at 12:00 on the Windemere Point Beach.

NORRIS: And where are you in all of this?

Mr. STEINER: I stand in the back behind everyone and do all the play-by-play to announce to our people that are lined along the beaches. We have about 300 to 400 people that show up every year.

NORRIS: And the play-by-play, I'm wondering. Is this like the PGA tournament? Are you whispering the play-by-play or are you speaking on a loudspeaker?

Mr. STEINER: I'm on a loudspeaker and as loud as I can to keep the folks involved in it and kind of joke along with them as we go to make our professionals feel more welcome and do all the play-by-plays of how the rock hits the water. Sometimes we have fish jump up and grab that rock when that pro happens to throw it, but he has to take the skip as it is.

NORRIS: Can you give us an example of what we might hear if we were standing there on the beach?

Mr. STEINER: `Now stepping up to the plate is John "Skippy" Kolar. John is a local who has won the Guinness Book record and has six stones in his hand. He's standing at the Mackinac Straits. John has stepped into the water. He's waiting for that water to be at the right clearness, glass, beautiful sheet. John has seen the rip. He wants--his arm is going back. He throws that stone. There it is. It's going, going further, further; the judges are counting and it looks like he skipped a 25.'

NORRIS: That means 25 skips across the water.

Mr. STEINER: Twenty-five skips.

NORRIS: How do you count that?

Mr. STEINER: Well, we have, for the professionals, anywhere from six to eight judges in the water, on the side of the water, on the beach. We then all converse and come up with what that skip was.

NORRIS: So tell us about that winning skip.

Mr. STEINER: It was a beautiful skip. The water was just perfect. I mean, this gentleman from Pennsylvania, Russ Byars, "Rock Bottom" as we call him, this is the second year he's won here and you couldn't have asked for a much more perfect throw. The water was glass. The water was perfect. It just happened to hit that water perfect and it went out 30 skips. It was unbelievable.

NORRIS: Eric Steiner, it's been great talking to you. Thanks so much.

Mr. STEINER: Thank you.

NORRIS: Eric Steiner was the announcer at the 31st annual stone-skipping contest on Michigan's Mackinac Island.

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NORRIS: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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