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No. 5 Skim a stone

Visitors skimming stones along the shore of the lake at Buttermere Valley, Cumbria
Visitors skimming stones along the shore of the lake at Buttermere Valley, Cumbria | © National Trust Images/James Dobson

Have you ever stood at the water’s edge and watched a stone skip across the surface? Adventure no. 5 on our list of ‘50 things to do before you’re 11¾’ is skimming a stone. It’s a tricky skill to master, but if you’ve got a steady arm and a keen eye, you’ll soon learn how to do it.

What you need

  • Some fairly still water - a calm sea, lake, pond or canal.
  • Flat stones that you can easily hold in your hand - not too small or too large. Pebbly beaches are usually best for picking up skimming stones.
  • Your best throwing arm.

Making the magic happen

Skimming a stone is a bit like whistling – you need everything to be in the right place at the right time to make it happen. But when it does, it’s magical.

Maybe you’ll be a natural stone skimming champion and get it right first time. But if not, don’t let the difficulty level of this activity scare you off. Put in a little practice and you'll soon have your stones bouncing off the surface of the water like a pro.

And when you get it just right, make sure you enjoy the moment. Feel the smooth stone in your palm before you throw it. Watch how the stone dances across the water and look out for the rippled circles it leaves behind.

Skimming stones at Wembury, Devon
Skimming stones at Wembury | © National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

What to do

Once you've found a flat stone that feels about the right size in your hand, your skimming adventure starts.

Hold the stone in the hand you usually use to throw things, with your thumb and first finger out, and rest the stone on your second finger. From above, your hand should look like a backwards 'C' or a 'U' with the stone between your thumb and first finger.

When it sits there comfortably without wibbling or wobbling, pull your hand and wrist back a bit, and then flick it forward and release the stone forwards and away from you.

You're aiming to get the stone spinning away from you in a straight flat line towards the water (rather than throwing it upwards into the air so it plops back down). That way, when it hits the water, it should bounce off with those distinctive skips and hops. It sometimes helps if you duck down, so that you're already level with the water when you start your throw.

Once you've mastered it, you can count how many hops your stone makes and have a competition with your family and friends.

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