You’ve made sand art, right? Me too. You know, at a fair where you pour colored sand into a vase, seal the top with candle wax and take it home for all to see your creation. No? Maybe you made yours on the beach with a bucket and shovel. I did that too. My sister and I would create what we believed to be magical castles complete with moats and dragons and my little brother would proceed to pounce and pummel them to destruction. You too? Well, what I witnessed this weekend was not your ordinary sand art!
If you’ve ever wandered by the beach outside of Coronado’s Hotel Del, you’ve seen him. Perched on the end of his lounge chair, often surrounded by onlookers, sits Sand Castle Man. Each day, you can see one of his welcoming grand creations of sandcastle extraordinaire. This weekend, he was one of many carvers, artists and sand magicians gracing the B Street Pier in San Diego at the 4th annual US Sand Sculpting Challenge and 3D Art Exposition. Here, lovers of sand and artistry were met with a bit of whimsical magic as 300 tons of sand was transformed before their very eyes.
Sponsored by Team USA and other local and national businesses, this event has become known as one of the world’s most important sand competitions. With $60,000 in prize and appearance money at stake, this event brought together international master carvers (many of whom have appeared on Travel Channel’s Sand Masters) and California hopefuls alike. The event takes two full weeks from set up to break down. In the midst of that, artists get four days to create and visitors get four days to catch a glimpse of how these masters turn a pile of sand into a work of art.
This year, the Master Carvers worked off of an Olympic theme. Beginning with an idea, perhaps a concept sketch and tools of their trade, artists from the Netherlands, Italy, Ireland, Singapore, Canada, Latvia, Russia and the USA turn over ten tons of quarry sand each into masterful creations of awe-inspiring art. The whole process is astounding. In their cordoned off area, each artist gets the same amount of sand and access to water. Some take the opportunity to ‘pack’ the sand first, which includes putting it into a wood-framed box, spraying it with water to their desired consistency (so it won’t crack later when it’s used) and layering more sand on top. Others take a look at the blob in front of them…and just go. No matter the method, the finished product leaves viewers speechless.
On Friday, I caught my first glimpse of this spectacle. The Cool California Carvers, three-men teams, were only up to ‘pounding’, while the eleven single Masters were on their third day of seven-seven carving in the hot southern California sunshine. Although each has different backgrounds and experience, their skills are obvious. The Masters, hard at work (since they had till only 2pm on Saturday before ‘shovels down’) still took the time to chat with passers by. Due to injury, one right-handed carver was forced to carve her entire piece with her left hand. It was cleverly titled, Perseverance. I got a chance to speak to the Director of Sand for this event, Rusty Croft. In 1997, in San Diego is where Rusty’s professional sand sculpting career took flight when he was part of an international sand team who designed a masterful creation of “The Lost City of Atlantis” (sandguys). The 2012 grand prize winner of this competition is today co-owner of Sand Guys and current host of Travel Channel’s Sand Masters. He told me that this was the first year of a theme for the Master Carvers and that artists could submit their drawing or concept prior to the event. In between checking on participants, he took the time to talk to me about quarry sand and its consistency, his sand-sculpting company and the over thirty countries they’ve now ‘delivered’ to in the past eighteen years and how his favorite of all was the trip to Palau.
His compatriots, the Sand Squirrels (one of the 9 teams of three who carve for a total of 2 days) talked to me about development, process and all things sand. Pete (one of the sand squirrels) is an art teacher in Rochester, New York. This former teacher and the present day one connected on educational philosophies and how life experience yields growth. In our conversation about their theme and how they ‘pack’ their sand, Pete told me how he donates tons of sand to his school and spends two full days with students building their very own sand castle for Homecoming each year. And we thought constructing those floats and having to destroy the glitter-filled creations a few days later was difficult, imagine if it was all made out of sand!
By Saturday night, there were no sand mounds left. The Masters had finished, their pieces titled and judged and the three-men teams were well on their way. With only street and building lights to illuminate, the art looked different without the sun’s sparkle. By Sunday, the results were posted and the team competition was nearing the end. Visitors awed at the artist’s ability to create strong, sharp lines out of grains of sand, the authenticity of rope frays depicted and the design concepts of them all. Each Master’s Olympic vision was different. Ranging from the father of the Olympics to ‘Bruce Jender‘, from discontinued sports to a depiction of ‘Anchor Leg’, from a ‘Photo Finish’ to an athlete getting ‘In the Zone’ and of course, the Olympic motto and creed, each artist showcased a part of the Olympic spirit in his/her design. It seemed fitting since San Diego is one of only three US cities to be visited by the US Olympic Committee’s interactive exhibit ‘Road to Rio‘ in 2015, and the competition was the chosen spot.
Amidst children learning to build sand castles of their own, a kid-zone, artists, vendors, sponsors and food trucks, as the hours ticked by, more and more creations rose from the ground. The nine, non-themed creations were coming to fruition by the time I left on Sunday. Mr. and Mrs. Gardener, a new look at Facebook®, Lego Batman and friends, the Rat Race and San Diego’s own Sand Castle Man’s Utah were just some of the spectacular developments.
This was my first visit to a sand-sculpting competition and one I won’t soon forget. International artists came to this beachside city and ‘played’ in the sand for Labor Day weekend. Without question, the Olympic motto, ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger’, was met by these phenomenal artists overcoming adversity, heat, and natural elements and using all forms of grit. Their art is temporary, but their skills, legendary. I can’t even imagine what they’ll dream up for 2016. If you want to reminisce about your childhood beach holidays, watch sand crystals transformed as if by magic, be in the presence of masters and scoff at all those who ever told you to stop playing in the sand…I’ll see you there next year. By late Monday night, all remnants of sand art were washed away knowing that in a year from now it will rise again, like Rusty Croft’s sand art creation of ‘The Lost City of Atlantis’.