I’ve been skimming stones for as long as I can remember. Growing up in Abergavenny, south Wales, there was no open water but Mum and Dad had a sailing boat in Cornwall, where we spent school holidays.
I was four when Dad first showed me how to make stones skip across water. I’d pass hours on pebbly beaches with my brother, picking up muddy stones and skimming them. It was satisfying making them dance on the surface. That perfect skim, where the stone glides, felt fantastic – and still does. The farther it went, the better.
I was a competitive child and good at throwing, too. I enjoyed javelin and was on rounders and swimming teams, but chucking stones was just for fun.
In adulthood, things changed. In 2010, my partner Craig and I moved to the Lake District with our newborn daughter, Imogen. We had our son Ethan two years later and most days I’d walk with the kids and our dog on a nearby beach, Roanhead, where sand dunes created perfect skimming pools. I’d gather stones for us to throw.
In August 2017, an advert for the All England Open Stone Skimming Championships on Windermere appeared on the National Trust’s Facebook. It looked like a fun family day out. There was a big crowd and at least 100 people were taking part. I signed up and paid £2 for three stones. I skimmed 28 metres and queued again and again, buying more stones to feed that competitive buzz, finally reaching 37 metres – which won me third place. I drove home buzzing, and £20 lighter.
I returned to the 2018 championship, hoping for a trophy. I waded to the small throwing platform in my trainers, threw a decent 44 metres and won. The following year, I won again, with 41 metres. I also spotted someone wearing a competition hoodie with “World” written across it. “Where’s that?” I asked and he told me about the annual World Stone Skimming Championships on Easdale Island in Scotland.
It was a month away, during the last weekend in September, and a six-hour drive. I contemplated the cost and distance for weeks until, the day before the contest, standing in the preschool where I work, I thought, to hell with it, I’m going. I messaged Craig, told him he had the kids and left home as soon as got there. I arrived at a hostel at 10pm, but couldn’t sleep for nerves and excitement. At 6am, I showered, had breakfast and drove to the crossing where the competitors had begun queueing.
By midmorning there were more than 250 people on the tiny island, taking part in an old flooded quarry site. You chose stones from a bucket of size-regulated island slate. Ropes and buoys marked a 63-metre course.
I threw early, with a best of 44 metres, but had no idea if it was good enough to win. When my name was called at the prize-giving ceremony that afternoon, I was elated. I was the women’s world champion. My medal was an Easdale slate with a ribbon through it, and I got a necklace featuring a dragonfly – called a “skimmer” in Scotland. I dashed for the first ferry back, called Craig and told him he was speaking to a world champion, then started the journey home with AC/DC playing in the car.
Stone skimming remains an under-the-radar sport. When the Welsh championships came round this June, I added another title to my belt, becoming the women’s Welsh open stone skimming champion, and convinced the kids to compete. They both won their categories – it must be in the genes.
It’s only now, when people ask me, that I’ve thought about what makes the perfect skim: a smooth stone that fits comfortably in your palm, with your index finger curved and thumb wrapped around the edge. The stone should have a slight corner that bites as you let go, giving that extra spin. Hitting the water at 40 degrees is the sweet spot; if you throw it flat, it will dive bomb.
I’m a big believer in giving things a go. I’m 42, and to become a world champion at this stage is pretty left-field. It showed me that it was worth jumping in the car that day – and proof that a childhood spent chucking muddy stones from pebbly beaches wasn’t wasted.
As told to Deborah Linton
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