If you are planning to be in Florida this November, make some time to visit the American Sandsculpting Championship in Fort Myers. It’s more than just a day at the beach! This is one of the largest sandsculpting competitions in the country, and it’s open to both professionals and amateurs of all levels.
This fun event has something for everyone. Art lovers can stroll along the shore while listening to music and admiring the fantastic creations of world-renowned sand artists. Folks of all ages with an artistic flair can join the competition as individuals or as part of a team. There will be bounce houses and other activities for the kids, and participants and spectators alike will enjoy the sun, the sand, and the beautiful setting.
Once you’ve finished creating your masterpiece on the beach, you’ll find plenty of other family-friendly activities in and around historic Fort Myers. Sample the local cuisine at one of the city’s many great restaurants, and then head to your home away from home for a little rest. There are numerous rental properties available right on the beach or within walking distance, and you’ll find accommodations to fit every budget and taste.
The History of Competitive Sand Sculpting
Humans have probably been playing in the sand for as long as there have been beaches. No one is really sure when the first sand sculpture was created, but some people believe that the practice of creating objects with sand goes back at least as far as the ancient Egyptians, who may have made sand models of the pyramids before they actually began construction.
The earliest known example of a truly artistic sand sculpture was made in the late 19th Century in Atlantic City. Shortly after this first sand sculpture made its debut, artists discovered that they could actually make money from sand creations, and the art form quickly became hugely popular in beach communities all along the east coast.
A friendly rivalry developed among the sand artists as they tried to outdo each other in the size, scope and complexity of their sculptures. It was only a matter of time before their casual competition developed into more formal contests. The sand sculpting tournaments we know today got their start back in the 1970’s in California, and their popularity soon spread around the globe.
The creation of these magnificent sand sculptures is a bit of performance art. Spectators will find the whole process fascinating to observe from start to finish. Watching a pile of sand be transformed into a beautiful castle or sculpture is a magical way to spend time at the beach. No wonder these sand sculpting contests have become so popular – they are great fun for both the artists and the observers.
The Basic Rules of Sandcastle Building
There are numerous websites that tell you how to build a basic sandcastle. Even Martha Stewart provides instructions for building sandcastles, because she apparently knows how to do everything. Here are the most basic things you need to know about the process:
- Use wet sand. The most important ingredient in your sandcastle is water. Dry sand won’t stick together. There is no such thing as using too much water, because the excess will drain away. Keep a separate bucket for fetching water, and a spray bottle to help keep your castle moist as you work in the sun.
- Start with a big mound of sand. You will be taking sand away from your castle, not adding to it, so start with a pile that is a bit bigger than you picture your finished structure will be. Trying to add sand after you’ve begun to create your castle will usually end in disaster.
- Pack the sand. Your sand must be tightly packed to ensure that your castle doesn’t fall down. Once you have your pile of sand in place, work off some calories by pounding, thumping, beating, and even jumping on it to get it as compact as possible.
- Work from top to bottom. Begin at the top of the structure and work your way down to avoid spoiling what you’ve already done. There is nothing more disappointing than accidentally knocking off a tower you’ve just spent an hour carving.
- Have the right tools for the job. Make sure you have at least two buckets – one to fetch water and one for mixing the water and sand. A lightweight shovel will help you create your initial mound of sand. There are special kits available, but you can find many of the carving tools you’ll need in your kitchen or garden shed. Be creative, and bring along anything that can dig and shape the sand such as a trowel, spatula, funnel, melon baller, spoon, fork, or pastry knife. A paintbrush can help to smooth the edges, and a drinking straw can be used to delicately blow away excess sand.
- Bring a camera. Don’t forget to bring a camera to capture each step in the process as well as the beautiful final product you create. Sandcastles won’t last long, but your memories of the fun you had making them will last a lifetime.
How to Build a Winning Sandcastle
Michelangelo said that “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” The same could be said of every pile of sand. If you would like to enter the American Sandsculpting Championship, you’ll need to learn how to build a winning sandcastle. Follow these tips from the professional sand sculptors to allow your inner Michelangelo to come out and play.
Start with a plan. If you want your sandcastle to win, don’t try to wing it. Draw a picture and plan out as much as you can before you get to the beach. This will save you a lot of time and eliminate wasted effort and false starts in a timed competition.
Aim for a ratio of about one part water to one part sand and test it by grabbing a handful and squeezing it into a ball. If it holds its shape, you’ve got the perfect mix. Build your mound of sand about six inches at a time, compacting and adding water before adding the next layer of sand. This will give your structure more strength.
Consider using forms such as a bottomless bucket to help you build the foundation of your structure, but don’t try to fill a regular bucket with wet sand and inverting it. The wet sand will create a vacuum, and you’ll find it almost impossible to remove the bucket. Keep the bucket for mixing sand and water, and then scooping it out by hand or with a small shovel to add to your sand pile.
Take away just a little at a time, shaving off thin layers of sand instead of trying to remove large amounts all at once. Be patient and work slowly. It’s easy to remove sand from your sculpture, but almost impossible to put it back once it’s gone, so take your time to make sure you aren’t removing something you want to keep.
Use your imagination as well as your carving tools to create interesting features such as windows, turrets, moats and drawbridges. Don’t limit yourself to flat walls – try creating the illusion of brick or stone with a little subtle carving or find a tool that creates a unique texture.
If you carve out an arch or a doorway in the wall of your castle, dig in halfway through from one side and then move around to dig out the rest of the way from the opposite side of the wall. If you go through all the way in one direction it is likely to collapse.
Use shells and other natural flotsam and jetsam you may find on the beach to create decorative touches to your castle. Shells might make a cobblestone path or elaborate doorway. Seaweed could be used to create a forest outside the castle walls. Don’t be afraid to play and experiment with the things Mother Nature provides you.
Remember to have fun, because even if you don’t win the contest, you’ll have created wonderful memories for your whole family. Every child should have the experience of building a sandcastle on the beach at least once in his life, and it’s never too late to experience the childlike wonder of creating a thing of beauty with your own hands.