A Day at the Beach
These 8 Great Sand-Sculpting Events Offer Fun in the Sun for Children of All Ages
Put kids on a beach, give them a bucket and sand shovel, and what happens? Sand castles. Call it child’s play if you will, but the magical mix of sand and water that has always enamored youngsters is increasingly capturing the interest and imagination of adults as well. Sand-sculpting contests and festivals are popping up on beaches around the world, attracting master sculptors who shape tons of sand into massive and intricately detailed works that you’d swear were chipped and chiseled from stone.
Once you’ve seen a few of these beauties, embodying a brilliant mix of engineering and artistry, you’ll never think of sand castles or, for that matter, sand and water in the same way again.
Sand-sculpting contests rival beach volleyball tournaments for attendance in seaside communities around the country as thousands of spectators come to marvel at the multiday process of forming and fashioning the sculptures.
Much like touring golf or tennis pros, a close-knit clan of master sand sculptors — estimated to number more than 100 — follow a worldwide circuit of competitions spreading from Australia to Switzerland and Indonesia to Turkey. As skilled professional artists, most sand sculptors earn $50,000 to $100,000 a year from prize money, appearance fees, sponsors and commercial projects.
Most competitions are organized into four categories: solo and doubles, amateur and professional. On opening day of a typical contest, solo sculptors or “carvers” are assigned to a 10-ton mound of sand, while two-person teams in doubles competition start with 20 to 25 tons. Then begins a rigorous process of shoveling, packing and stacking — known as the “pound up” — followed by long hours of shaping and carving.
Sculptors employ a variety of tools such as trowels, palette knives, spoons and drinking straws, along with an assortment of custom-made utensils to trim and shape the sand. Carvers continuously wet down the sand as they work, since it is the surface tension of the water that holds the sand together. In good weather or under protective cover, completed sculptures will hold together for several days, sometimes even a week, and much longer if sprayed with a solution of school glue and water.
Join us on a coast-to-coast, eight-state tour of the country’s favorite sand-sculpting contests.
FORT MYERS Beach, FLA.
Skirted by more than 1,350 miles of coastline — much of it soft, sandy beach — Florida is quite naturally home to a number of sand-sculpting events. The largest and longest running of them is the American Sand Sculpting Championship, staged each November since 1986 on Fort Myers Beach.
The 10-day-long event brings together an international mix of several dozen master sculptors, a large supporting cast of amateurs, and tens of thousands of spectators, all mingled together on a sandy strand behind Pinchers Crab Shack and the Wyndham Garden Hotel to celebrate the creation of a veritable sculpture garden lined with works rivaling any carved from stone or cast in bronze.
Watching sculptures take shape is just part of a busy schedule of activities in store for guests. The Quick Sand Speed Sculpting Contest matches master sculptors in face-to-face 10-minute “sculpt offs,” carving subjects chosen by members of the audience — and the audience then decides the winners. Sand-sculpting demonstrations and lessons offer another opportunity for interaction as master sculptors share the tricks of their craft with guests. Snacking and shopping urges are well served too, at Sand Vendor Village, where more than 50 vendors offer food, beverages, specialty retail items, arts and crafts. Music is always in the air as well, with live performances throughout the event.
Presented by the Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce, the 28th Annual American Sand Sculpting Championship is scheduled for Nov. 21-30. For more information, go to www.FMBsandsculpt
ing.com. The nearest campground is the beachfront Red Coconut RV Park, 239-463-7200, www.redcoconut.com
VIRGINIA BEACH, VA.
Each September for the last 40 years, the city of Virginia Beach, Va., has bid farewell to its summer season with one last beachfront bash, known as the Neptune Festival. It’s a mega-party featuring a medley of events ranging from a triathlon to a symphony concert — with the signature event being the International Sandsculpting Championship.
Decades in development, this is a well-organized, highly refined event that has earned a reputation in sand-sculpting circles as a world-class venue. As such, and bolstered by its bountiful $50,000 purse, the Virginia Beach Championship draws the largest and most talented field of international sculptors of any competition in the country. A glimpse at the 2013 results tells the story: the first four places in the solo competition were foreigners, led by top prize winner, Jooheng Tan from Singapore, while the team, or doubles, crown went to Canadians Jonathan Bouchard and Jacinthe Trudel.
The event, dubbed “Neptune’s Land of Sand,” is staged beneath a huge oceanfront tent, nearly as large as a football field, where 12 solo sculptors and 10 doubles teams carve and display their masterpieces during a 10-day period. It’s a gallery-like atmosphere, protected from any inclement weather, inviting spectators to stroll boarded walkways for intimate viewing of the sculpting process and finished artwork. Teaching demos, live “QuickSand” competitions and Meet and Greet opportunities with sculptors add to the visitor experience.
Managed by a nonprofit volunteer community organization, the Neptune Festival’s International Sandsculpting Championship will celebrate its 41st year Sept. 26-Oct. 5. For more information, visit www.neptunefestival.com. Camping can be found nearby at Holiday Trav-L-Park of Virginia Beach, 866-850-9630, www.campingvb.com
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J.
History, they say, repeats itself — and that’s what has happened in Atlantic City, N.J., new home to the DO AC Sand Sculpting World Cup. Most experts on the subject concur that this seaside Jersey city, so famous for its boardwalk, was the birthplace, back in the late 1800s, of American sand sculpting.
The event itself has a long history, moving to Atlantic City last June (then named the World Championship of Sand Sculpting), as a refugee from a Seattle suburb where it had been staged for a couple of years. Prior to that, it was held at Harrison Hot Springs, British Columbia, Canada, where it originated in 1987.
A free public event staged on Missouri Avenue Beach (between the Pier Shops at Caesars and Trump Plaza), the World Cup brings together 20 internationally renowned master sculptors who compete in head-to-head singles and doubles competitions for more than $75,000 in prize money.
Organized and produced by veteran local sculptor John Gowdy, working with the Atlantic City Alliance, this year’s event is set for June 19-27, with sculptures remaining on exhibit until July 7. For more information, visit www.atlantic
cityalliance.net. The nearest RV campground is Long Beach Carefree RV Resort in Barnegat, 609-698-5684, www.care
HAMPTON BEACH, N.H.
New England’s largest sand-sculpting event has taken place for the last 13 summers on the rocky shores of New Hampshire. The invitational Hampton Beach Master Sand Sculpting Competition pits 10 world-class masters vying for a share of the $15,000 purse during an intensive three-day showdown.
The event was born back in 2000, when local artist and master sand sculptor Greg Grady was commissioned by the U.S. Mint and the State of New Hampshire to create a larger-than-life-size replica of the just-introduced New Hampshire quarter out of 10 tons of sand for a local festival celebrating the coin’s release. The coin carved in sand made such an impression on Hampton Beach Village officials that they organized a sand-sculpting competition to begin the following year — with Grady in charge of making it happen.
Grady, who has indeed made the event happen for well more than a decade, says the only obstacle has been the fact that local sand is too coarse and grainy for sculpting, making it necessary to truck in more than 250 tons of imported sand for the annual competition.
This year’s event is scheduled to run June 19-21. For more information, go to www.hamptonbeach.org/sandcastle-competition.cfm. The nearest RV park is Tidewater Campground, 603-926-5474, www.ucampnh.com/tidewater
SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, TEXAS
Famous for its soft, white sand, the Texas Gulf Coast is home to several major sand-sculpting events, the longest running and most popular of which is South Padre
Island’s Sandcastle Days.
This free, family-friendly funfest was founded 27 years ago by resident master sand sculptors Walter McDonald (aka Amazin’ Walter) and Lucinda Wierenga (aka Sandy Feet) as a way of drawing attention to the magical sculpting qualities of South Padre’s sand — and the critical importance of protecting the island’s beautiful but fragile shores. It has grown over the years from a purely local celebration to one of the country’s top sand-sculpting competitions, gaining a large following of traveling pros who create museum-worthy sculptures along the beach next to Clayton’s Beach Bar & Grill to the delight of more than 30,000 spectators.
Hundreds of amateurs — some serious, some not so — give free reign to their creativity as well, and there are sand-castle lessons for those who really want to take up the art of sculpting. A food fair, art show and live music add to the festivities.
Sandcastle Days 2014 is set for Oct. 2-5. For more information, visit www.sandcastledays.com. Set up camp at nearby South Padre KOA, 800-562-9724, www.southpadrekoa.com
SAN DIEGO, CALIF.
Promoters like to point out that “it’s on the water, but it’s not on the beach,” when touting the U.S. Sand Sculpting Challenge & 3D Art Exposition in San Diego, Calif. That’s because this urban sand-sculpting extravaganza is staged each Labor Day weekend on the “B” Street Cruise Ship Terminal Pier. It’s a unique setting to be sure, but one requiring a huge effort to bring in the more than 300 tons of sand needed to keep sculptors carving during the four-day event.
The pier has proven a popular and picturesque venue for the event (now in its third year), surrounded by San Diego’s large bay and with downtown’s skyscrapers as a backdrop. More than 200,000 spectators turned out for last year’s Challenge, which matched the skills of 40 master sculptors from the U.S. and a host of other nations, including Canada, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands, Portugal and Latvia — all vying for a share of $60,000 in prize money.
Activities and attractions along the pier go well beyond sand sculpting — with tall ships sailing past with cannons ablaze; singers, dancers and circus performers entertaining the crowds; bungee jumping and zip lining; an arts and crafts exposition; and a long, tempting string of gourmet food and beverage stands.
This year’s event is scheduled for Aug. 29-Sept. 1. For more information, visit www.ussandsculpting.com. Nearby camping can be found at Campland on the Bay, 800-422-9386, www.campland.com
CANNON BEACH, ORE.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the annual Cannon Beach Sandcastle Contest with an activity-packed three-
day festival running June 20-22. The longest-running sand competition in the Northwest — and one of the region’s most popular summer events — focuses on a busy day of sculpting, Saturday, June 21. It’s a dawn-to-dusk marathon during which dozens of teams square off — right on the town beach — to shovel, pack and carve an array of elaborately sculpted
While there’s plenty of fun to go around in this generally low-key, family-oriented contest, the event headlines an elite Masters Division made up of pro sculptors who compete for cash prizes. Amateurs go at it in large group, small group and children’s divisions, with winners receiving medals and ribbons.
It was a damaging tsunami, resulting from an Alaska earthquake in March 1964, that’s credited as the genesis of the Cannon Beach Sandcastle Contest. A big wave that swept the Northwest coast following the quake flooded downtown Cannon Beach and took out bridges and other infrastructure. Local residents rallied that summer to stage a community sand castle contest to help raise funds and spirits.
Recognizing the spectator potential of the event, the Cannon Beach Chamber of Commerce expanded the contest the following year, promoting it as a means to help bring tourists back to town. It has grown steadily in popularity through the years and now attracts tens of thousands of visitors annually.
The event gets underway on Friday evening, June 20, with a “Shovels & Buckets” dinner, continues with the big Sandcastle Contest on Saturday and concludes Sunday with a 5K Fun Run. A concert and beach bonfire set for Saturday night complement the festivities.
For more information visit www.cannon-beach.net/cbsandcastle.html. A nearby RV campground is the RV Resort at Cannon Beach, 800-847-2231, www.cbrvresort.com.
LONG BEACH, WASH.
Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula celebrates the art of sand sculpting each July, as it has for 30 years, with a low-key, family- (and pet-) friendly event called Sandsations.
This year’s event gets underway July 16-18 with teams of master sand sculptors demonstrating their skills to onlookers at the Port of Ilwaco, the community of Ocean Park and in downtown Long Beach as they build, shape and carve intricate and amazing sculptures from simple mounds of sand. On Friday afternoon, July 18, the public is invited to join in for some free sand-sculpting lessons at Bolstad Beach, followed by the lighting of a festive bonfire (and some old-fashioned marshmallow roasting).
Sandsations culminates on Saturday, July 19, with the much-anticipated Sandsations Beach Competition. Contestants are given five hours to transform beach sand into the most imaginative sculptures possible — consistent with a yet-to-be-announced theme. Judges vote for winners in four categories — masters, intermediate, novice and family — with victors awarded cash prizes up to $1,200. Spectators line up to view the frenzied contest from the Long Beach Boardwalk.
Pets can get in on the fun here as well by joining the Sand Flea Pet Parade, with prizes offered for the “Beachiest” Pet, Best Pet Trick, Pet-Owner Lookalike, Best Costume and others.
So bring along your sculpting tools (and the family pet) for the 30th annual rendition of Sandsations, July 16-20. For more information, visit www.sandsations
Camping is available nearby at Driftwood RV Park, 360-642-2711, www.driftwoodrvpark.net.
Florida-based writer/photographer Dave G. Houser has contributed regularly to MotorHome magazine since 1985.