Thursday, June 13, 2024

Rock-Skipping Championship settled by throw-off

Editor | June 6, 2024 12:00 AM

George Murphy held onto his crown in the males, 14 and over division, at the Ken Avison Memorial Flathead Lake Rock-Skipping Championship, held Sunday in Polson. But his win came only after without surviving a tense throw-off against Lex Avison and Polson Mayor Eric Huffine, after all three tallied 14 in the preliminary round.

They regrouped, gathered a few more stones and skimmed them across the water again, with Murphy tallying 19 for first place, Lex accruing eight, and Huffine posting seven skips.

Murphy had some tips for his fellow skippers: “My secret would be good rocks, which means flat and large. The other secret is year-round fitness. You can't show up one time a year and pretend that you're going to do well, right?”

He also maintains that successful skippers need to know how to read the water. “Sometimes when it's choppy, it changes up the weight, the rock you throw and the way you throw it,” he said. “If it's a little bit smoother – today was pretty nice – then you can kind of go for it a little bit more.”

Katie Walter retained her title in the female, 14 and over category, besting Shyloh Huffine, 10 skips to five.

“I think it's all about the angle,” Walter said of her winning technique. “You’ve got to get the good angle to the water for the first skip, so I like to get low.”

“You've got to read the rock right too,” she added. “You've got to find its good side.”

Competition was fierce in the 13 and under division. Brothers Sam and Isaac May were almost tied, but Sam’s first throw yielded the top score with 18 skips, compared to his brother’s 17. Finn Taylor, last year’s division champ, came in third with eight.

Another pair of siblings, Claire and Kate Price, tied in the girls, 13 and under, with two skips apiece. A coin toss earned Claire the title, and maybe an extra piece of pizza.

Dick Bratton and John Bourne of the Great Scots Pipes and Drum Band competed against each other in the men’s category for 65 and over. Bourne snagged first with nine skips and Bratton took second with six.

Bandmate Sandy Farrell, who was the sole competitor in the women’s category for that age group, won handily with five skips.

As is customary, the bagpipe brigade led participants from the Cove Pizza to the skipping grounds at Riverside Recreation, then played both Canadian and American anthems in honor of the event’s founder, beloved community leader Ken Avison, who was born north of the border.

Also customary is the professional caliber judging provided by District Court Judge Molly Owen, her retired predecessor, Jim Manley, and Justice of the Peace Rick Schoening.

“I thought there was some good talent there,” Schoening said.

“And the overall winner was under 14 – very impressive,” added Judge Owen of young Sam May’s accomplishment.  

The event is organized annually by Ken’s family and Cove proprietors Tammy, Kevin and Ryan Avison. Proceeds go to the Ken Avison Memorial Scholarship, administered by the Polson Education and Scholarship Foundation – an appropriate homage to a lifelong educator, who also performed magic tricks for countless kids.

This year’s festivities attracted 20 contestants and about 30 fervent spectators. Kevin Avison, who served as master of ceremonies, said he hopes to grow the event to around 50 competitors.

Murphy, the 14 and over champ, was willing to put some muscle into the cause. “I want this to be huge,” he said.

Mayor Huffine also endorsed the contest. “I think it's an amazing event,” he said, while dining on free pizza during the post-contest celebration at the Cove. “It's for a great cause. It's a lot of fun. And you get fed up well when it's all said and done.”

“I think that lots of people want a rock-throwing contest but they don't know that this happens,” added his son, Jack.

For those who may have missed this year’s event and are eager to train for the 2025 championship, Murphy offered the following advice: “Just get out there and throw a lot more rocks and you'll get better.”

    Kevin Avison, MC for the Flathead Lake Rock-Skipping Championships, calls out the score, under the somber gaze of judges Rick Schoening, Jim Manley and Molly Owen. (Kristi Niemeyer/Leader)
King of the Skippers Sam May bested his competitors in the 13 and under boys' category, as well as most adults with 18 skips across the water at Riverside Recreation in Polson. (Kristi Niemeyer/Leader)
    Mayor Eric Huffine was tied for first place in the men's division at the rock-skipping championship, until a throw-off landed him in third. (Kristi Niemeyer/Leader)
    George Murphy, reigning champ in the 14 and over men's division of the Flathead Lake Rock-Skipping Championships, shows off his winning form Sunday. (Kristi Niemeyer/Leader)
    Katie Walters once again won the women's, 14 and older, division at the Flathead Lake Rock-Skipping Championships, held Sunday at Riverside Recreation in Polson. (Kristi Niemeyer/Leader)