Published the 06 July 2016
Before getting down to the practical ins and outs, we need a little explanation of the hows and whys. Skimming stones isn’t just a kids’ game!
We have the Scots to thank for this rather primitive sport of throwing stones into the water. They held the first world championships in 1983 on the shores of the little Scottish island of Easdale. The aim: skimming your stone as far as possible over the water.
As far as the theory is concerned, an act that seems rather simple and childish is actually a miracle of physics controlled by a number of quite complex phenomena: angle and speed of the throw, viscosity of the water, pull of gravity and finally the weight of the stone itself.
Anyone who enjoys the sport of skimming stones also knows that speed isn’t the only factor involved: a final little flick of the wrist to spin the stone like a top is vital. This is known as the gyroscopic effect: a rotating object will maintain the same rotational axis. To understand the principle, just watch a top as it spins! Turning on itself in the same way, the stone remains stable and doesn’t spiral about in all directions.
Now for the practical ins and outs:
Anyone can skim stones, you don’t need permission from your doctor and you don’t need to prepare your mind or body. Skimming stones is easy: for families, friends or when taking the dog for a walk!
If you fancy a go at skimming stones, first find a calm, wide expanse of water. As a committed skimmer of stones, I reckon the Lac du Lou is THE place to go in Val Thorens! The stones are just right and the great view is an amazing bonus! To find out how to get there, ask our lovely experts at the Tourist Office on 04 79 00 08 08 or view the online map
When you get there, choose a stable location at the edge of the water and set up your throwing station, collecting as many stones around you as you can.
A little hint on the choice of stone: it needs to be thin, flat, round and as smooth as possible to reduce friction with the water. The weight and size of the stone will depend on your hands and throwing power – try to choose one suited to your height!
Now for the position: take the stone in your right hand if you are right-handed or your left if you are a lefty, keeping the flat surface of the stone parallel with the surface of the water. Facing side-on to the lake and planting your legs firmly, flex your knees, move your left leg forward towards the lake and throw with your right hand with your shoulder facing the lake. For the trajectory, picture an angle of 20 degrees between your hand and the surface of the water –the angle of attack for skimming stones. 20 degrees is the ideal angle for skimming stones and the result of calculations based on cosines and ten of lines mathematical formulae –thank you boffins!
Wind your wrist back and put all your might into the throw, releasing your arm as forward as far as it will go – the stone needs to be travelling at at least 43.5km/h (thanks again, boffins!).
A tip from the pros: remember the theory! The secret of skimming stones is spinning the stone as you throw it - just like a frisbee - preventing it from falling back and losing momentum on contact with the water.
If the stone surfs on the water and sinks rapidly, it’s because you either threw the stone at not enough of an angle, threw it too far or too close to the surface of the water. Change your throwing angle by adjusting your wrist angle.
If the stone bounces up too high, it’s because you threw the stone too close to you at too great an angle – try again, lifting your wrist to reduce the angle.
Keep trying - every throw is a unique experience!
Fellow competitors: the next World Championships are being held on 25th September on the island of Easdale in Scotland. So get training – you have all of July and August to train in Val Thorens!
I declare the skimming season open. On your marks, get set, skim!
And finally, for those of you who still haven’t quite mastered the art after all the practice, you can always be cheeky and ask your friends if they know the world record for the number of bounces when skimming stones… go to this video to see the skimming record being made: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x378ii3
The world record was broken in Pennsylvania in 2013, when Kurt Steiner made a throw with 88 bounces, earning him a place in the Guinness Book of Records.