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Fireworks, parades, barbecues — even hot dog eating contests — have all become Fourth of July staples. And ever since 1969, the Mackinac Island Stone Skipping & Gerplunking Club in Michigan has boasted an Independence Day tradition of its own: the annual Professional Stone Skipping tournament. Bill Littlefield spoke with Eric “The Voice” Steiner, the competition’s play-by-play announcer, before the 2013 event, and asked him to give a quick overview for listeners unfamiliar with a stone skipping competition.
This story originally aired on July 6, 2013.
BL: For our listeners who may not have witnessed a stone-skipping competition, can you give us, please, a quick overview of the sport?
ES: Mackinac Island is known amongst the stone skippers across the country as the Stanley Cup of stone skipping. They all want to win this tournament. We’ve got stone skippers that come from Las Vegas, California, the Guinness Book record holder from Franklin, Penn. We’ve got former Guinness Book record holders that try and take that title back.
BL: Is this just because there are a lot more flat stones around Mackinac Island than any place else?
ES: Well, according to the pros, for many years they thought that this was the flattest stone they could have. Well what happened was over the past couple years the Guinness Book record holder brought his own stones to the island. Well there was some controversy over this and many other of the professionals started to say, “Wait a minute, if he’s going to bring his own stones, we want to bring stones on.” So what he did is he would bring a large duffle bag of stones to the island and let them pick the stones first, and then he would pick what’s left over, and he would still beat them.
BL: Alright now we have to back up just a minute because you’ve used the word professional. How much money is involved in this extraordinary sport?
ES: Well like I always tell the kids on the beach, they’re probably going to want to quit college and become a professional because the money is outstanding. I think this year the professional got $98.
BL: Probably enough to pay the extra baggage for bringing stones.
ES: I don’t even know if it carried his ferry service fee to get from the mainland to the island.
BL: Al Michaels has declared that hockey is the hardest sport to call, but I don’t know if he’s ever tried to announce a stone skipping competition. What are the particular challenges that you face?
ES: You know you’ve got to be able to be on your toes ready to go because when that stone gets cast over the straits of Mackinac you’ve got a lot of “pitty-pats” is what we call them at the end. So you’ve got to be able to be ready, you’ve got to have your goggles on being able to see those pitty-pats and help count and listen for the judges to be able to tell me exactly how many stones were cast. The gentleman that won this year was Max “Batman” Steiner, and he had 29 skips this year.
BL: Woah, hold on. The guy who won has the same name as the play-by-play announcer. I smell a rat.
ES: Well it just happens to be my son, and he has never won this tournament in all the years he’s been here. Last year he came in third with 24 and this year the water just happened to be perfect when he went up to skip, and he just happened to hit it at the right spot, and that thing went out. Some of the judges even told us it went further than 29, but 29 was the official count.
BL: And that was enough.
ES: That took the title.
BL: Alright I just have one more question for you, Eric. The name of the club is the Mackinac Island Stone Skipping and Gerplunking Club. What the heck is gerplunking?
ES: Gerplunking is about how the sound of a stone hits the water. And then we judge the sound of the stone.
BL: Ah, I see. Although a stone that went “gerplunk” sounds as if maybe it wouldn’t skip.
ES: Exactly. See you should come here and do color with me. I’m going to offer to you next year, July 4, I want you on the island because you’re the first one that’s picked up on that.
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