I've won the World Stone Skimming Championships 5 times

As I looked out across the surface of Ladybower Reservoir in Derbyshire, I noticed a steady stream of ripples.

It wasn’t from the stones I’d been skimming. Not rain, or wind. It was something else. Fish, perhaps?

It wasn’t until I was lying awake in bed later that night – my legs burning – that I realised what the rippling had been: a cloud of midges basking in the summer evening sun.

They were the reason why I had 42 bites on my calves alone.

I’d been out there practising for the upcoming World Stone Skimming Championships, hosted today on Easdale Island, near Oban in Argyll, Scotland.

It’s a small price to pay for the fun of skimming stones and, having won the Women’s World Stone Skimming Championship five times so far, the kind of thing I’ve experienced more than once.

Growing up, I was often told I ‘throw like a boy’ – usually when playing ball sports, but especially when people saw me throwing a cricket ball.

I remember picking up stones and attempting to skim them whenever I was near some water – a river, a pond, a lake but mostly by the sea – with my father or gran. 

If a stone skipped over a wave or two it always felt good – though my father was very competitive and always had to do one better! He was the one who taught me how to perfect my technique, encouraging me to refine it.

Much later, as an adult, I was on a holiday in Scotland with my family when we saw that The World Stone Skimming Championships were taking place. So we decided to make the trip up from Glasgow to Easdale to take part.

Crossing the Clachan Bridge (known as the ‘Bridge Over The Atlantic’) through the Isle of Seil off the west coast of Scotland to a small ferry, we weren’t sure what to expect.

Of course, what we found was an island community that was strong and welcoming.

The sun was shining; a band was playing as we arrived, people were laughing, smiling and the atmosphere was vibrant.

The first competition was started by Bertie Baker in 1983. It was later resurrected in 1997 by the Easdale community as a fundraising event, and has been going ever since.

There is no standard ‘stone skimmer’ type: people of all ages, shapes and sizes were picking their stones from competition buckets, standing on a platform and skimming them across the quarry. 

Fishing lines set the course (your stones have to stay within them) leading 63 metres to a back wall. If you hit that, you’re doing really well.

I can’t remember exactly how many people took part that first year, but I know it was over 300, while double were spectating.

I couldn’t help but sign up.

I realised how competitive I was when, in that first year, I came third and felt a huge pull to return the following year to try and win.

My second year, I did win and I couldn’t stop grinning the whole way back to my home in London.

My competitive father tried to claim the success as having been the one to ‘teach me’, of course – but I was OK with that.

Since then, I’ve been going back to The World Stone Skimming Championships ever since. Once you’ve taken part and experienced the community, it’s impossible not to keep returning.

The competition has rules, though – like all good contests. The stones must be from the island itself, must be less than three inches in diameter, and must bounce at least twice to be counted as a ‘skim’.

The marked out course, and the added difficulty of having to throw from a raised plinth, add to the pressure – especially when contestants only have three throws each, and when a gust of wind at the wrong point, or a sudden downpour can change conditions completely.

But that’s also part of the fun. I’ve won five World Titles now and one European Title, and though I’m a naturally competitive person I mainly keep going back for the sheer fun of it.

Competitors assemble from across the world, too – Hungary, Japan, Canada, USA, Holland, Switzerland, Poland, France, Germany, New Zealand, Scotland, England, Wales and further afield.

Competition is always fierce, but it’s also exciting, joyful and celebratory.

Following a hiatus over the pandemic, the Championships are back once again this year with a new organising team. I can’t wait to reunite with the community after so long.

As well as being fun, it’s also something almost anyone can do with just a simple stone and a body of water. 

The three tips I usually suggest to newbies are: find a stone that is comfortable in your hand (though you can skim almost anything).

Use your whole body and don’t throw just from your elbow. And lastly, look at what’s happening on the water and adjust accordingly (if it’s windy, something a bit heavier can avoid being blown away).

Next time you’re by the water, give it a go and watch your stone fly. If it’s a good skim, chances are you’ll turn around and no one was looking, but you saw it and you know it was good.

Maybe it’ll take you closer to a rich community of stone skimmers, and perhaps I’ll even see you at next year’s World Championships.

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