History of Sand Castles and Sand Sculpting

Every one of us who went to the beach as a kid probably brought a toy pail and shovel to play with the sand. The first thing that comes to mind is to try to build a sand castle. Well, not only kids enjoy building a sand castle or a sand sculpture; adults also like to show their skills and have fun with forming sand.

Sand sculpting is a form of entertainment in many beaches across the world. Sand artists make profit out of their work as tourists pose beside their picture-perfect creation. It’s similar to essay writing with a lot of professionals doing it for fun and for money.

Well, it turns out that no one knows or will ever know who first played with sand and decided to build something with it. There were presumptions as to who started the art of sculpting with sand. It is believed that the ancient Egyptians produced sand models of the pyramids. Some suggest that ancient men used sand sculpting as a form of communication before a formal language was used and before the cave painting became an artistic expression. Meanwhile, one Indian myth dating back to the 14th century referred to Balaram Das, a poet, who built devotional scriptures from sand. However, the first documented reference of real sand sculpture appeared only for another 500 years.

The first known profitable sand sculpture was built in Atlantic City in New Jersey during the late 19th century. Some credit Philip McCord for building the first true sand sculpture in 1897 featuring a drowned mother and her baby in macabre form. At this time, spectators and passerby walking along the boardwalk would often throw tips to the sculptors. Word spread that there was money in sand sculpture, and many had ventured into the sand building business to the point that it became a nuisance to the town fathers.

In 1944, the Great Atlantic hurricane ripped up and ruined the Boardwalk, destroying sand dunes. The city government saw it as an opportunity to ban sand sculpting.

During the 20th century, sand sculpting became popular as an art. After the World War II, Americans started taking vacations on the beach and family sand castle contests started to pop up on beachside resorts in towns along the east coast. But the modern-day sand sculpting as we know it only came into existence during the 1970s in California. This was pioneered by Todd VanderPluym and Gerry Kirk, who formed the Sand Sculptors International (SSI). The SSI established a standard for sand sculpting. They organized sand sculptors so that they can create bigger and better sculptures, which detailed replicas of famous castles and fantasy architecture. Their works became more detailed and intricate as they tried to outdo each other in every competition.

The only limitation to sand sculpting is imagination. Different kinds of shapes and forms can be built to create a sand sculpture. Sculptors may use bare hands or different types of tools, like masonry, garden and kitchen tools to create artistic, intricate and exceptional works.

The popularity of sand sculpting also spread to other countries. Sand sculptures became major attractions in almost all beach sides in the world. But in the United States, sand sculpting festivals already abound. Here are some of them:

1. International Sandsculpting Championship in Virginia Beach, Virginia

As part of the Neptune Festival, the International Sandsculpting Championship takes place in Virginia Beach, Oceanfront during the last week of September to the first week of October. It has been the premiere signature event of the festival since its inception. Thirty-two sculptors from 11 countries of the world gather every year to turn sand dunes into works of art in just three days. The sculptors would also mold 10 teams and 12 solo creations under a huge tent about the size of a football field. Amateur, school and freelance competitions also happen at the beach during the festival.

2. American Sandsculpting Championship in Fort Myers Beach, Florida

The American Sandsculpting Championship is the largest sand sculpting competition in Florida, and one of the biggest in the world. The annual event happens during the last two weeks of November in Fort Myers Beach, Florida and draws more than 80,000 spectators that watch master sculptors from across the country and around the world – Canada, Australia, Russia, Mexico, the Netherlands, and Latvia – build works of art out of 1,000 tons of sand. It offers contests for different levels and categories such as amateur, advanced amateur, master solos, duos and of course, the Florida State Championships.

3. Sandcastle Days in South Padre Island, Texas

Sandcastle Days in South Padre Island, Texas

The South Padre Island, Tex., hosts the Annual Sandcastle Days during early October. Over the years, the free, family event has grown from a local celebration to a qualifying event for the World Championships of Sand Sculpting. More than 30,000 people come to the festival to artists bring the sand to life with the sound of live music. An amateur contest is also held, and a free sand sculpture workshop is also offered to those interested to learn the art.

4. Revere Beach National Sand Sculpting Festival in Revere Beach, Massachusetts

Revere Beach National Sand Sculpting Festival in Revere Beach, Massachusetts

One of the largest sand sculpting festivals in the United States, the Annual Revere Beach International Sand Sculpting Festival held in Revere Beach, Mass. caters to around 700,000 to 800,000 people. Each year, the sculptors from across the globe come to the festival to construct artwork using 10 tons of sand and of course, to compete for tens of thousands in grand prizes. Kids could also enjoy with their very own sand sculpting lessons for free. The festival is also full of entertainment like live music, amusement rides, fireworks galore, and new hot air balloon rides!

5. Sanding Ovations in Treasure Island, Florida

Sanding Ovations in Treasure Island, Florida

What could be nicer than a fall day, or several fall days, spent at the beach? The Sanding Ovations Sand Sculpting Competition and Music Festival offer several days of fun at Treasure Island, Fla., outside of St. Petersburg. A four-day competition between 10 sand sculpting masters from North America, Asia, and Europe. It is a free event to be held on the weekend before Thanksgiving.

6. Blue Water Sandfest in Port Huron, Michigan

Blue Water Sandfest in Port Huron, Michigan

The three-day Blue Water Sandfest happens every July in the Fort Gratiot Lighthouse along the beaches of Port Huron, Mich. The festival holds the first and only master sand sculpting and advanced amateur competition in the state. Sand sculpting demonstrations, hands on lessons as and a Quick Sand Speed Sculpting Show are also included in the event activities.

7. Sand Castles and S’MOREs in Pacific Beach, Wash.

The Sand Castles and S’MOREs is an annual competition event for amateurs with sculpture exhibition of the pros. It is held for three days every September at the Pacific Beach, Washington. Contests are open not only for master sculptors, but also for kids, groups and individuals.

8. Sandsations in Long Beach, Wash.

Sandsations in Long Beach, Wash

The Sandsations Annual Long Beach Sand-Sculpting Competition Extravaganza is a competition for amateurs with master exhibits happening every third weekend in July at Long Beach, Washington. Four solo sand artists are creating master sculptures and see it come to life from beginning to end. Free sand sculpting lessons as well as a Q&A session are held.

9. Headlands BeachFest in Mentor, Ohio

Headlands BeachFest in Mentor, Ohio

A beach party along the one-mile lakefront of Headlands Beach State Park in Mentor, Ohio awaits you in July. The Headlands BeachFest is filled with kayaking, kite flying and activities for kids, plus the main event being the Ohio Master Sand Sculpting competition.

10. Kites and Castles in Ogallala, Nebraska

Kites and Castles in Ogallala, Nebraska

In the Midwest, you can still find a sand sculpting festival. The Annual Kites and Castles are usually held on the shores of Lake McConaughy. The family-friendly event invites sculptors of all skill levels. Around 30 teams participate in the sand sculpting competition, and they also partake in the kite building and flying activities.