I came with lofty ambitions. But I soon find out what Im up against in this fiercely competitive sport
There arent many actual rock stars in the world of competitive stone skimming. But with his wiry frame, camouflage jacket and eyebrows thicker than a Gallagher brothers, Dougie Isaacs is one. Isaacs can skim a stone 121.8 metres, further than anyone on the planet. Bottle of beer in one hand, cigarette in the other, he brings a frisson of danger to a sport that is beginning to take itself rather seriously. As one French skimmer says of Isaacs, He doesnt give a fuck. To take part in a previous world record attempt, Isaacs missed his grandmothers funeral. He has won the World Stone Skimming Championships eight times six more than anyone else. But his last win was in 2016, and there is an influx of new skimmers on the scene who smell blood.
Easdale island lies off the west coast of Scotland and has hosted the World Stone Skimming Championships since 1997, raising money for the local community. Each year, people from all over the world arrive on a 10-person ferry from the neighbouring island of Seil, to watch and take part. This year Im one of them. My interest was piqued by an online clip of an exuberant Japanese skimmer called Keisuke Hashimoto the winner in 2017. I take a bus from Oban to Seil, where I meet some of the events stars in the pub. Guy Tarring, a ruddy man in his 60s, who carries cigars and looks like Iggy Pop if he had gone into marketing instead of rocknroll, tells us that he has twice come second in the Old Tossers category (the event has only ever been won by Ron Long, a 75-year-old Welshman with a moustache like a paintbrush). Tarring once paid Isaacs to train him in Blairgowrie, Perthshire, where Isaacs practises on the River Ericht. He remembers one drunken night when Isaacs waded across the river and painted white lines on a wall to indicate how far his skims had travelled. Tarring says the key to a good skim is power and thrust, but then he points to his head. Ultimately, he says, its about up here.