When I was a kid, I did all the lake things.

I was uber-lucky growing up. My family owned a camp where I could spend summer days in and out of the lake, traversing through the woods, and just wreaking all sorts of boyhood havoc whenever possible. And if there's one thing in particular that young boys love to do at camp, it's to throw things into the water.

Kids enjoying summer vacation at the lake

This also, of course, including skipping rocks. I used to see if I could skip the most obtuse, misshapen rocks I could find. Small, flat rocks were a lot harder to come by. Sometimes I'd even be patient and try to gather a nice little bundle of flat rocks so I could enjoy maximum skipping time.

Turns out those small flat rocks aren't necessarily the best for the job.

I spotted this headline on NPR.com that turned my head immediately. Basically, they implied that smaller, flatter rocks we've all been programmed to use, don't always yield the best results. Smaller ones may get a few more skips, but something a bit heavier and rounder may give you more distance. It's something called the superelastic response. It goes like this:

What happens is, the rock touches down on the water layer, and because it's heavier, it sinks down further and stays in contact for longer. This increases pressure on that rock, which then increases the force that lifts it out, and you can get an almighty leap in this response.

No one is saying you should specifically not try to skip the flatter, lighter stones, but don't discount the results that could come from something a bit more robust. So what we're doing wrong is focusing too much on a specific shape. we should be a bit more open-minded about what we throw.

Photo by noelle on Unsplash
Photo by noelle on Unsplash

There are far more far-reaching applications for this concept as well.

Scientists have also been studying this concept as a way to make airplanes fly more efficiently. while the technology inside planes has changed a lot over the years, the outsides are a little behind. Who wouldn't want a smoother ride in an airplane? What company wouldn't wanna save a few bucks on costs?


Now, I'm not saying you should abandon the way you've collected rocks for your summertime skipping pleasures, but maybe give some other sizes and shapes a try. If skipping rocks is your jam, don't you want the most bang for your buck? Or rather, the most range for your rock?

Luckily, skipping rocks is not one of these things...

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