A (not so) rocky road: Edmonton Rock Skip Open enters its 5th year
'It’s always kind of been an off-the-cuff grassroots event and everyone who competes seems to really enjoy it'
Just beside Edmonton's Laurier Park boat launch, near the Valley Zoo, they stood.
Sixteen people, watching the North Saskatchewan water flow in front of them. In their hands they grasped flat rocks. It was here they would answer one of the most important questions in Edmonton.
Who is the best rock skipper in the city?
After they all flung six rocks each — a total of 96 throws, and 998 skips — they had their answer, a man named Ian Buckley.
Buckley's rock skipped a whopping 37 times across the water.
The saga of the Rock Skip Open began when David Young was on vacation and eyed some rocks that looked prime for skipping. So, he did what one should do in this case and skipped them on the water. Afterwards, he tweeted about how good he was at it.
Then his friend Jason Hayes said that no, in fact, it was he who was the rock-skipper supreme.
"It was originally going to be just the two of us meeting at the river at high noon but we decided to up the ante and invite other people and get a charity involved.- David Young
"So what started as a Twitter rivalry kind of escalated into organizing the first tournament," said Young. "It was originally going to be just the two of us meeting at the river at high noon but we decided to up the ante and invite other people and get a charity involved."
Young took home the title that year.
After Young's inaugural victory the whole thing really got rocking and now, five years later, they had 16 competitors tossing rocks across the flowing waters of the North Saskatchewan. As far as Young knows it's the only event like it in the country.
It also works to raise money for charities. This year they raised more than $200, alongside a full bin of donations for the food bank.
The tournament even has a judge in Jerry Aulenbach, a local real estate agent who has overseen the competition since the first year.
"I guess he would be the most experienced rock-skipping judge possibly in the country at this point," said Young. "It is difficult. You can't really get an accurate to-the-skip count, especially because the last third happen really quickly at the end."
But, Young says, the crowd tends to agree on what is the best throw.
While it may seem that the calling is an honourable one, not everything involved in the world of competitive Edmonton rock skipping is smooth. Sometimes things can get a little, shall we say, rocky.
"When you have one of those bad throws that just hits the water at a bad angle and you just get one splash or, like, two skips, you can see frustration," said Young. "You can see some clenched fists and some angry faces but everyone usually cheers everyone on."
"I guess when we know that we reach a tipping point is when people start cheating."
The only rule we have is that 'you find your own rocks,' they have to be natural, you can't take them to the shop...- David Young
While there haven't been any incidents of cheating in Edmonton, the group is on the lookout for, what Young calls "rock doping."
"It's people shaving down rocks, or buffing them down or getting them to be the right shape and weight artificially. The only rule we have is that you find your own rocks. They have to be natural. You can't take them to the shop and get them the way you want them."
However, people can get their own rocks wherever they want. This is good, explains Young, because the Edmonton geology isn't conducive to forming prime skipping rocks. The second-place finisher for this year's competition found his rocks in B.C.
"He kept them in his car and brought them along," said Young. "That's OK. They're real rocks from a real stream."
Young wants to see the event. Age group categories are a possibility. So is raising even more money for the food bank.
"It's kind of neat to be a trailblazer. It would be fun to see this in some other cities or get a rock-skipping circuit going."
"It's always kind of been an off-the-cuff grassroots event and everyone who competes seems to really enjoy it. After five years of interest and building it, we would all like to see it go to another level."