Rock in River Festival rock-skipping championships draw top talent
FRANKLIN — The wind died down for Craig Goodelle, 39. Finally.
The Erie native stood on the calm shores of French Creek with a flat, iPhone-sized rock in his hand.
Now came the time for a big toss.
With the cadence of a pitcher, he sent the rock hydroplaning across the water.
“Go! Go! Go!” he yelled.
The rock resembled a tiny Jet Ski for a few seconds, skipping the water 14 times until it vanished into the shallow stream.
“I was getting 60s and 70s the other day,” the Erie man joked seconds later, shrugging his shoulders. “I don't know what happened.”
Goodelle's first performance in Saturday's Rock in River Festival rock-skipping championships was not enough to qualify him to compete with the pros; he would have needed at least 20 skips for that.
But it was enough to motivate him for next year's event.
Competitors came from as far away as Ohio, New York, Michigan and Ontario, Canada. Crowd estimates were not available.
Kurt “Mountain Man” Steiner of Emporium, Pa., won the event with 40 skips.
Ronnie Beith, the events and marketing coordinator for the city, said that while Franklin's Applefest in October is the biggest draw, crowds of rock-skipping loyalists have steadily grown.
If the opening scenes of the old “Andy Griffith Show” tells us anything, it's that launching a rock into a river is pretty easy. Skipping a stone for distance, accuracy and a high number of skips is challenging.
And don't be fooled into thinking you can muscle your way to a big number of skips. Conditions have to be just right -- the river has to be smooth, the rock's angle cannot be too steep, and the flick of your wrist and index finger has to be on point.
Russ Byars, 49, grew up in Green Tree playing baseball and softball. He said he never skipped a rock before moving to Franklin in 1999. Byars won his first amateur competition in 2000, turned pro and has traded the world record with Steiner for the last few years.
Byars scans beachlines while on vacation at waterfront communities, looking for rocks he thinks may get good air for the competition. He has hundreds piled up in his garage.
“It's funny when you think that the only reason I got into this is because I like fudge,” said Byars, a test engineer for a local electrical manufacturing company. “It's been fun ever since.”
Byars holds the world mark with a toss that yielded 51 skips. He set the record in 2007.
Mark Elwell and his family and friends loaded up an RV and drove to the event from Erie. He started chucking six years ago after a friend noticed his talent during a trip to Lake Erie.
“I was up at the lake, and I was skipping rocks. He told me I should do it in a competition,” said Elwell, 40, of Erie. “Who knew they had a competition for something like this?”
He now competes with pros and makes the pilgrimage to Franklin every August.
“It's something different,” he said. “Truly different.”
Chris Ramirez is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5682 or firstname.lastname@example.org.