No flight of fancy: female stone skimmer limbers up for throw-off with the men

first_imgShare via Email Support The Guardian North of England Greenway in action. Photograph: Mark Pinder/The Guardian Share on Pinterest During Friday’s practice session her insouciant style soon drew a crowd of admirers. Children were open-mouthed as they watched her stones dance across the lake, impervious to the wake created by two low-flying RAF planes out on manoeuvres.She knows it won’t be easy to triumph. Windermere’s size, coupled with the heavy winds and rain that come with the Lake District in August, means women throwers have typically only achieved distances of 28m to 32m, often being out-skipped by boys in the 11- to 16-year-old category.“During the last nine years, we have rarely seen women stone skimmers come to the fore and shine,” said Julius Barratt, trustee of the South Cumbria Rivers Trust, which organises the event. “We have long wanted to find ways to encourage more women to have a throw, but gentle encouragement and even direct appeals on the megaphone have seen relatively few stepping up to the stone skimming mark.“We feel that 2017 could be a watershed, as the best way for women to be inspired is to watch someone else who’s entered the world of skimming and is now having fun heading around the circuit. “We need to spread the ‘this girl can’ message in this sport, just as much as in others, and we hope that role models like Charlotte Greenway can help us to do that.”Greenway plans to cope with the pressure by following the same pre-competition routine as the did at the British championships. She only entered that for fun, hungover after a night out. So she sees no reason not to go to the pub on Friday night with her family, and enjoy a full English breakfast in her parents’ camper van on Saturday morning. She will not be wearing Lycra.Ron Long has won the Windermere competition more times than anyone else. The 73-year-old Welshman has a delightfully retro website in which he recalls how he won his nickname, Old Tosser. “Colliery washeries was our playground, and stones our only playthings,” he writes. “That’s what we did, we threw stones – at any and everything – including each other.” Long, who claims to practice skimming at least twice a week near his home in mid-Wales, firmly believes it deserves to be an Olympic discipline, being both egalitarian and a joy to watch. “There’s something very spiritual about watching a stone skimming across water. It defies all the laws of physics. It should sink, but it’s saying, ‘no, I’m not ready yet.’”The Guinness Book of Records recently agreed to add a stone skimming category for the longest distance travelled, but refused to accept the first claim last year, when Scotsman Dougie Isaacs skimmed 107m. The furthest, non-Guinness approved female throw came in Switzerland last year, when 20-year-old canoeist called Nina Luginbühl managed 75m, with 24 skips.Luginbühl is unlikely to make the record book though, as Guinness has decided there will be no separate male and female categories. “That’s not very fair,” grumbled Greenway. “Other sports recognise that women and men are different. In tennis women only play three sets when the men play five.” Share on Twitter … we have a small favour to ask. More people, like you, are reading and supporting the Guardian’s independent, investigative journalism than ever before. 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Every reader contribution, however big or small, is so valuable. Support The Guardian from as little as $1 – and it only takes a minute. Thank you. • This article was amended on 31 August 2017. An earlier version misattributed the remark whispered to Greenway at the Shropshire event to the “male organiser”. Charlotte Greenway does not necessarily look like a top sportswoman as she limbers up by Windermere in her distinctive Jackie O sunglasses. But the 32-year-old is a rising star in the traditionally male-dominated pursuit of stone skimming.The winner of the British women’s stone skimming championships in Shropshire is preparing for another competition – the all-England stone skimming championships at Fell Foot on Windermere’s southern tip.Enthusiasts hope it will be a watershed for female participation in the sport, although Greenway has already encountered plenty of sexism along the way. After she had been given the gold medal (a painted stone) in Shropshire, a man whispered to her: “I hope this doesn’t offend you, but you don’t throw like a girl.”The Guardian met Greenway in the Lake District as she prepared to surpass her previous personal best of 45m – further than any woman has managed on Windermere in the nine years that the all-England championships have been running. However, she may struggle to top Ron Long’s winning throw last year – he managed 85m. Victory, incidentally, is measured by distance not by the number of hops on the water, although a minimum of three are required for a throw to be legal. Share on LinkedIncenter_img Share on Messenger Pinterest Share on Facebook Twitter Since you’re here… Share on WhatsApp news Facebook Topics Reuse this contentlast_img read more