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Surface to Air to Surface Missile

Surface to Air to Surface Missile

Porter Press author Ian Wagstaff has revealed there are depths to his character of which even his colleagues know nothing. Here we plumb the punning depths to reveal all.

We begin this in-depth investigative report with some lively correspondence between Ian, who is just finishing a book on a Ferrari 857S sports racer for Porter Press and about to commence one on an Alfa T33, and publisher Philip Porter. 

IW to PP

“As I know that you appreciate the esoteric, you will be pleased to know that I will be competing in the World Stone Skimming Championships on Sunday. Qualification is nail biting. You have to make sure you are in the first 350 queuing up to sign on. Thankfully, I have a bye. ...I can sign on without queuing.

Stone Skimming Championships

“Following unofficial practice yesterday, I can confidently predict I will finish in the top 350. I must have a word with [McLaren engineer] Andy about the aerodynamic properties of slate. I have just been talking to a couple of French competitors who reckon stones with ragged edges are better than rounded ones. It is all very serious at the top. The champion from two years ago comes from Japan. He sent a friend here some months ago to collect stones for him to practise with back in his native land. Thankfully, it is a lot less serious at the bottom, where I do not even stand a chance of winning 'The Old Tossers' award (yes, it really does exist). However, The Guardian has sent a journalist to cover the event.”

PP to IW

“As to your last paragraph, what can I say? We are so proud to have you representing Porter Press. The whole, massive team will be rooting for you. I am sure our clients Ross [Brawn] and Gordon [Murray] can help with advice on aerodynamics. The latter would probably argue for light weight, although a counter argument would be the need for some mass to maintain momentum (an unfortunate word these days). I certainly favoured slate at the height of my skimming career.

“Will you be taking photographs? I think our colleagues in marketing would kill for a short piece on your participation. 'Our Authors Out & About' probably sounds better than 'Author Stoned Again'.

“An account might read: 'In his highly respected, authoritative books published by Porter Press, leading author Ian Wagstaff (37) is not used to skimming the surface. However, last weekend this is just what he did, swapping the in-depth, for the World... Never one to hide in the shallows, Ian has been plumbing new depths and making waves....'”

Stone skimming

IW to PP

“Andy has already emailed with advice on which stones to use. I just wish I had had time to try some out in a wind tunnel.

“Despite being shy and retiring about these things, I will ask Gill to take over the camera for my throws. I like your suggested text. Have you thought about writing for a living?"

 IW to PP

“And please do not describe me as being 37, otherwise I will be disqualified from the (over 65) Old Tossers' class... and yes, there really is one which, annoyingly, was won by a Welshman last year.”

PP to IW

“Morning Champ,

“Weather foul here. Hope you won't have to contend with a sticky dog [we are both cricket enthusiasts].

“We're all behind you (much safer than in front).

“Successful skimming. You can do it. The world is holding its breath.

“No pressure - just deliver.”

IW to PP

“Two of the three tosses were not too bad for a novice. Now thinking of retiring from the sport.”

Ian Wagstaff


Aquaplaning by Ian Wagstaff

Porter Press author, Ian Wagstaff has been competing at World Championship level, although on a Scottish island – Easdale, where there are no cars. He reports that he finished a stunning 143rd out of 180 adult men in the World Stone Skimming Championships. Qualifying is gruelling and involves standing in a line to ensure that you are one of the first 350 to register. However, Ian managed to jump the queue, as he and his wife Gill own a cottage on the island and were helping with the teas and cakes.

The competition at the front of the field is serious, although it has to be admitted that the skill level drops considerably towards the back of the grid. The event now receives national media coverage and was the subject of a recent BBC Scotland film. The 2017 champion travelled from Japan to compete, returning the following year to be beaten by a Hungarian, although it has to be admitted that the latter lives in Oban. Although Easdale has only 60 permanent residents, there can be over 800 on the island on the day, most of them having arrived, 10 at a time, on its tiny ferries.

Once Ian had ‘skimmed’, he reverted to his trusty Nikon, waving his Guild of Motoring Writers press pass at a marshal in order to take pictures from the otherwise prohibited side of the old slate quarry where the competition takes place. He reports that shooting trackside photos of racing cars is a far safer pastime, thanks to the precipitous sides of the quarry and the fact that one competitor kept hold of his stone for too long and threw it into the crowd. Having now made his debut, Ian is faced with making the decision whether to retire from the sport or to undertake a serious practice regime.

The last word from Philip Porter

Many congratulations to Ian for (comparative) success. Although there is no truth in the rumour that Porter Press are to launch a new series of books under the title of Great Skimmers, the company is considering wading in with a full team next year. Several of the company's distinguished clients are already at work on special, extra-sticky qualifying stones, ground effects stones with venturi and cunningly designed stones made from carbon fibre. It is rumoured that a gentleman called Bernie has plans to acquire the commercial rights and promote the sport to a global audience and transform it into a multi-billion dollar enterprise.


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seb - February 25, 2020

Reminds me of hours of standing in the cold on the local river, waiting for my son practising a sport I was not aware of before this story…
We need the rulebook, but only after the 857S book.

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