When Benjamin Ohmer released his prize winning toss at the 10th annual Lake Paran Stone Skipping Competition in North Bennington, he knew it was a good throw.
Ben, who is 6, got his stone to skip 22 times across the surface of the lake, enough to take first prize in his age group.
“I started to see it started skipping and I was like, ‘That’s ‘gonna be a lot,” he said, after collecting his first-prize trophy. “It was the most I ever got in a competition.”
Ben traveled out to Lake Paran with his family from their home in northwestern Pennsylvania to take part in the competition, one of only a handful of organized stone skipping events in the country.
“Stone skipping is fun because it’s magic. The stone is supposed to sink, and it just floats on top of the surface of the water.” Ezra Feldman, Bennington resident
His father, Dave Ohmer, who’s won five first place prizes at the Franklin, Pennsylvania championship, said stone skipping has become a way to explore new places with his family, teach and learn new skills, and get his four boys to work together and not fight, even it’s for just a few hours.
“Core part of our family, man,” he said. “I’ve been doing it for as long as, since before I was a father, I’ve been going to competitions. So all my kids kind of grew up, all of our little family get-aways on the weekends were, you know, were throwing rocks.”
Lake Paran is a dammed reservoir, in the southwestern corner of Vermont.
There’s a public beach and day camps during the summer, a fundraising Paran Plunge in February and year-round environmental walks and activities.
“Paran is a really important resource in this community,” said Alisa Del Tufo, chair of Paran Recreations, the nonprofit organization that manages the lake. “We are a very welcoming place for the whole community, and we also are environmental stewards for you know, a part of our environment that's under a lot of stress right now, with everything from the weeds and flooding, to more heat and just everything that people are dealing with all over the state.”
She said the stone skipping competition doesn’t really bring in too much money. Admission is free, and the adult stone skippers only pay $10 to register.
But on this day, when more than a hundred people came out to watch, and stone skippers from across the country and Canada drove over to Bennington County for a chance to win a bag of fudge, Del Tufo said the day’s been a success.
“Paran is a really important resource in this community. We are a very welcoming place for the whole community, and we also are environmental stewards for you know, a part of our environment that is under a lot of stress right now." Alisa Del Tufo, Paran Recreations
“We are always looking for more attention from the folks up in Montpelier, because being down in this southern corner of the state we often don’t get the attention that we think we should be getting,” Del Tufo said. “So we really are interested in bringing as many people here as we can to enjoy the beauty of this place."
There are only three other stone skipping competitions in the country, according to Del Tufo, and the event here at Lake Paran is divided between age groups and skill levels.
Three judges sit up on park benches, looking over the lake, doing their best to count how many times the stone skims across the surface.
There are no real rules, except that the stones have to be natural and unaltered. No shaving or smoothing.
“Stone skipping is fun because it’s magic,” said Ezra Feldman, who was competing in the Lake Paran event for the first time. “The stone is supposed to sink, and it just floats on top of the surface of the water.”
Feldman said he grew up skipping stones, whenever he found himself along a body of water with good rocks nearby, and he never thought much about it before he found himself on a crowded, public beach with crowds of other people skipping stones.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “And you start thinking about how it works. And why it spins, and why it skips better when it spins, and what kind of edges you should have, and whether a round stone is better than a kind of square stone, and if you have a stone with a little bit of a dome and a flat edge, like which one is better to skip on. And I’m in the amateurs because I don’t know. But it’s fun.”
In between the various levels of competitions everyone made their way down to the lake to practice, compare stones and talk strategy.
This was the third year Arlo Kent came down with his family to Lake Paran from their home in Stowe.
Arlo is 13, and he was competing at the professional level this year after scoring really well at last year’s competition.
He said he’s been watching the pros and learning what he can while developing his own style.
“I’m really trying to just refine my technique,” said Arlo. “I’m testing out all the different ways to throw it. I’m working on the angle of the rock itself, and also the angle that you throw it at. And I’m also learning from a few pros, their techniques. Yeah, it’s just a fun competition. Everyone here is very friendly. And, you know, I like to see how many skips I can get.”
Arlo went head-to-head with some of the best stone skippers in the country.
And, he didn’t make it out of the first round.
But he said he’ll keep skipping stones on the Little River, which runs through his town, and he’ll be back next year.
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