Your days at the beach with a bucket and shovel making castles in the sand were child's play compared to what you'll see at sand sculpting events.
There, the massive, inventive, intricate works of art go so far beyond "sand castles." You'll never look at sand and water the same way again. (Keep reminding yourself---it is just sand and water.)
On Day One of a contest, a solo sculptor or "carver" is presented with a 10-ton pyramid of sand (two-person teams in doubles competition work with 20 to 25 tons).
Then, through a rigorous process of shoveling, packing, stacking and carving, a sculpture takes shape.
Spectators can watch it all -- from the first day "pound up" in which the sand is compressed, to the hours of carving with manual tools such as trowels, butter knives, tablespoons and drinking straws, plus some that the sculptors devise for themselves. (Dutch sculptor Wilfred Stijger's patented Willysphere -- inspired by the base of a wine glass -- makes perfect sand spheres.)
"The first question anyone asks us is what happens when it rains, but wind and sun are worse than rain when you're sculpting sand," says Rusty Croft, who with Kirk Rademaker is co-owner of Sand Guys International and co-hosted the Travel Channel series "Sand Masters." "We wet down the sculptures as we work. The surface tension of the water holds the sand together."
Finished sculptures may be sprayed with a solution of water and school glue to preserve them for long-term viewing.
Nevertheless, many sand sculpture events are held under tents or temporary shelters safe from the elements, and quite a few take place off the beach in parks and open spaces where sand is brought in especially for the event.
"The sand is always different," Croft notes. "Sand dug out of the ground has sharp edges that lock together. Beach sand is rounded because it's been washed by the waves. You have to listen to the sand. It tells you what to build. Sand sculpture is a brilliant mix between engineering and artwork."
Here are some of the masters' top picks for sand sculpting events around the globe. No bucket required.
July 19-21, 2013
National Sand Sculpting Festival, Revere Beach, Revere, Massachusetts
"There's a wonderful festival atmosphere here and the sand is definitely some of the best stuff out there -- you can make crazy vertical sculptures," says Sue McGrew, a Tacoma-based professional sand sculptor and a member of the "Sand Masters" team. "They finish the event off with a bang ... fireworks. And there's easy access from Boston by public transportation."
August 10-September 8, 2013
International Sand Sculpture Festival, Rorschach, Switzerland
"You're sculpting in a park on the Bodensee and you have the Alps behind you; the whole event has a great elegant feel," says Kirk Rademaker, who will pair with Wilfred Stijgers of the Netherlands in this year's doubles competition. With a full week to complete their pieces, the doubles carvers create spectacular things.
August 30-September 2, 2013
U.S. Sand Sculpting Challenge, San Diego
On the water, but not on the beach, this four-day competition takes place on the B Street cruise ship terminal pier in downtown San Diego. Croft calls it one of the more progressive events on the sand sculpting calendar, giving carvers four days to work. There's also a head-to-head team competition and a chance for visitors to vote for this year's People's Choice sand sculpture.
September 27-October 6, 2013
International Sandsculpting Championship, Virginia Beach, Virginia
A significant cash prize for the winners ensures that the field of competitors is top-notch. Carvers love this event and so do spectators. Look for lots of international representation here, including Fergus Mulvany from Ireland, Benjamin Probanza from Mexico, Edith Van Wetering of the Netherlands, and Canadian master carvers Guy-Olivier Deveau, David Ducharme, Karen Fralich and Abe Waterman.
October 15-20, 2013
Carve San Francisco, San Francisco
Croft and Rademaker are consulting on and participating in this event, which will be held for the first time this year.