Stone skipping – art or science?

If you’ve been to a lake before, you must have seen someone throwing stones over the water, or even done so yourself. You may have been surprised to see the stone bounce over the water at times before sinking. That’s stone skipping. Most people do it for peaceful fun. But there are those who practice tirelessly to hone this skill and yet others who study the whole phenomenon from a scientific perspective.

The artist

In 2013, a man named Kurt Steiner set the Guinness World Record for highest number of consecutive stone skips over water – a whopping 88! His secret? Practice. Lots of practice. Over years of testing, he came up with just the right stone type and stance needed for the perfect throw. Guinness tells that he looks for stones “that weigh between 3 – 8 ounces… that are very smooth (they don’t have to be perfectly round), flat bottoms and are between 1/4 – 5/16th of an inch thick.” A good grip, he tells the Wired, is crucial to a high-octane skip; it translates to more speed and a quicker spin, which help stabilize the rock as it rebounds across the water.

The scientist

A wholly different approach was adopted years ago by a researcher, Lydéric Bocquet, to investigate the phenomenon from a scientific lens and find out the optimal conditions to attain the maximum number of skips. Using concepts of mechanics and fluid dynamics, he actually derived a formula to estimate this number based on spin and speed. Further research led to the discovery of the ‘magic’ launch angle to be 20o for the maximum skips.

Who’s right then?

Steiner perfected the art of stone skipping through hit-and-trial and common sense, relying on his ability to ‘feel’ for the perfect stone and learning from his past throws. Whereas Bocquet applied his theoretical knowledge and mathematical concepts to explore the science behind the simple pastime. So, what really is stone skipping – art or science? The answer is both. The capabilities of an individual define whether a practice is best handled in an artistic sense or a logical one. But used together, they are a lethal combination that can break all records. Thus, to truly master the skill of stone skipping, people of both backgrounds should join forces to set new milestones.

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