Beach Art Re­turns

Pop­u­lar sand sculpt­ing cham­pi­onship swings into Fort My­ers Beach for ten days.

RSWLiving - - Features - BY MATTHEW SOLAN

Think about the ma­jes­tic and cre­ative sand cas­tles you built as a child, us­ing only plas­tic cups and shov­els. Now think of the mas­ter­pieces the likes of Monet, Pi­casso, Dali and even Tim Bur­ton could cre­ate in the sand and you have a bet­ter im­age of the kind of elab­o­rate de­signs that can emerge at the 29th An­nual Amer­i­can Sand Sculpt­ing Cham­pi­onship.

What be­gan as a tiny, two-day beach at­trac­tion now spans 10 days, draws tens of thou­sands of visi­tors—and master sand sculp­tors from around the United States, Canada and Europe. The 2015 event be­gins Novem­ber 20 at the Wyn­d­ham Gar­den Ho­tel on the south end of Es­tero Is­land on Fort My­ers Beach. It prom­ises 10 days of in­tense com­pe­ti­tion, with mind-bog­gling sculp­tures cre­ated by master sand sculp­tors and also ad­vanced am­a­teur sculp­tors.

The com­pe­ti­tion has grown from a small af­fair with a hand­ful of cu­ri­ous on­look­ers to one of the most watched spec­ta­tor hap­pen­ings in the area. “We started this event hop­ing to draw some off-sea­son visi­tors to the area,” says Bud No­cera, pres­i­dent of the Greater Fort My­ers Beach Cham­ber of Com­merce, the event’s lead spon­sor. The word “suc­cess” seems in­ad­e­quate to de­scribe the cham­ber’s cu­mu­la­tive ef­forts over the years: The 2014 cham­pi­onship drew more than 40,000 visi­tors.

BUILD IT AND THEY WILL COME

The cham­pi­onship cre­ates a huge cul­tural foot­print. It cov­ers more than 200,000 square feet on Fort My­ers Beach, and re­quires gath­er­ing more than 2 mil­lion pounds of sand, prep­ping the sand with wa­ter and then pack­ing it into wooden forms for the artists. Be­cause ev­ery sculp­tor needs ready ac­cess to wa­ter—the only “glue” al­lowed—a net­work of tem­po­rary wa­ter pipes criss­crosses the beach to sup­ply a des­ig­nated spigot for each 20-by-20-foot sculpt­ing site.

Cham­pi­onship en­try is by in­vi­ta­tion, so only top-level sand sculp­tors com­pete in both sin­gles and dou­bles di­vi­sions. The Florida Ad­vanced Am­a­teur State Cham­pi­onships is part of the larger event; al­to­gether the artists cre­ate more than 30 unique, su­per-sized sand sculp­tures. A to­tal of $5,000 in prize money is di­vided among the di­vi­sions’ win­ners and run­ners-up at the clos­ing-day awards cer­e­mony.

How are win­ners cho­sen? The judges look for cre­ativ­ity, imag­i­na­tion and skill re­vealed by the com­plex­ity and fine de­tails of each fin­ished piece. “The fine de­tails are what set these sculp­tures apart,” ex­plains Marianne Knight of The Sand Lovers, a sand sculpt­ing event man­age­ment com­pany.

Past de­signs have in­cluded ev­ery­thing from gi­ant gar­den gnomes and hu­man stat­ues to de­signs inspired by fan­tasy, science fic­tion and pop cul­ture. If you can think of it, it prob­a­bly can be made into sand.

Ev­ery year judges are se­lected among area lo­cals who have art, ar­chi­tec­ture or en­gi­neer­ing back­grounds. There is also a Peo­ple’s Choice prize, awarded to the sculp­ture that garn­ers the most quar­ters (used as “vot­ing bal­lots”) from the thou­sands of ad­mir­ing visi­tors who pass by.

Al­ways a crowd pleaser are the daily “Quick Sand” speed-sculpt­ing com­pe­ti­tions where, on the tented pav­il­ion stage, sculp­tors have just 10 min­utes to rep­re­sent in sand an idea thrown out from a cho­sen mem­ber of the au­di­ence. The fi­nal win­ner gets $500 do­nated to the char­ity of his or her choice. And twice a day, ev­ery day, master and ad­vanced am­a­teurs of­fer sand-sculpt­ing lessons and demon­stra­tions.

On the first Sun­day of the event, any­one of any age can try his or her hand at sculpt­ing in the am­a­teur solo, fam­ily and cor­po­rate team com­pe­ti­tions. Reg­is­tra­tion opens at 9 a.m. and com­pe­ti­tion runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., with an awards cer­e­mony at 4 p.m. (To see the Am­a­teur Com­pe­ti­tion rules, visit: fmb­sand­sculpt­ing.com/am­a­teur-con­test/.)

FUN IN THE SUN AND SAND

From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, visi­tors can min­gle and check out the lo­cal trea­sures at the tented Sand Ven­dor Vil­lage,

co-spon­sored by Pinchers Crab Shack and Texas Tony’s Rib House. The area buzzes with a chil­dren’s scavenger hunt and en­ter­tain­ment zone, live mu­sic, re­tail ven­dors from around the coun­try and lo­cal crafts­peo­ple show­cas­ing and selling their inspired arts and crafts.

Other fun ac­tiv­i­ties in­clude a “Photo Op­por­tu­nity Sculp­ture.” It’s avail­able for visi­tors to “step into” and cus­tom­ize with their own names, which makes for a most un­usual post card or Christ­mas card.

Beach vis­its are syn­ony­mous with food, and the cham­pi­onship is a great way for at­ten­dees to sam­ple lo­cal del­i­ca­cies. “This is one of the sig­na­ture events in Lee County, so it makes sense that par­tic­i­pants have the chance to taste fresh seafood, award­win­ning BBQ and sig­na­ture dishes,” says Kevin Rooney, events di­rec­tor for Pinchers Crab Shack and Texas Tony’s Rib House.

Of course, putting to­gether the An­nual Amer­i­can Sand Sculpt­ing Cham­pi­onship re­quires spe­cial ex­per­tise. The Sand Lovers own­ers Bill and Marianne Knight co­or­di­nate and carry out the count­less chores and de­tails, which has helped the event be­come “one of the largest sand sculpt­ing com­pe­ti­tions in the world, notes Bill Knight.

Another in­trigu­ing as­pect for visi­tors are sculp­tures cre­ated by sand sculpt­ing teams at the var­i­ous spon­sor sites, such as the Semi­nole Casino Ho­tel Immokalee, the Edi­son & Ford Win­ter Es­tates, the Key West Ex­press, Pinchers Crab Shack, the Wyn­d­ham Gar­den Ho­tel and oth­ers. Each de­sign fea­tures cer­tain key im­ages that re­flect the area’s tourism in­dus­try.

“Last year they used two tons of sand and cre­ated a 1914 Model T car for us,” says Janet Wil­son, public re­la­tions and mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor for the Edi­son & Ford Win­ter Es­tates. “It was in­cred­i­ble. The year be­fore they built a model of the Edi­son home.”

This year, The Sand Lovers wel­comes world-renowned sculp­tor Me­lineige Beau­re­gard as part of its sculpt­ing team at the spon­sor sites. Mon­treal-based Beau­re­gard won the first Women’s Only World Sand Sculpt­ing Cham­pi­onships in 2013, and was part of the win­ning dou­bles teams in both Fort My­ers and the Cana­dian Open last year.

WHAT BE­GAN AS A TINY, TWO-DAY BEACH AT­TRAC­TION NOW SPANS 10 DAYS, DRAWS TENS OF THOU­SANDS OF VISI­TORS—AND MASTER SAND SCULP­TORS FROM AROUND THE UNITED STATES, CANADA AND EUROPE.

What is the Fort My­ers Beach cham­pi­onship like from a sand sculp­tor’s point of view? Beau­re­gard loves its high level of com­pe­ti­tion. “I am al­ways inspired by all the dif­fer­ent styles of sculp­tures cre­ated by these artists,” she says.

For Beau­re­gard, such events are like fam­ily re­unions. This will be her fourth year com­pet­ing in the cham­pi­onship. She ex­plains, “There are not many of us in the world who do this work, so we are kind of like a fam­ily, and love to be to­gether.”

“What bet­ter rep­re­sen­ta­tion of our won­der­ful cor­ner of the world than a com­pe­ti­tion show­cas­ing artists who cre­ate mas­ter­pieces us­ing sun and sand, just two of the el­e­ments that make Fort My­ers Beach such an in­com­pa­ra­ble des­ti­na­tion,” says Linda Miller of the Key West Ex­press.

The cham­pi­onship is also an op­por­tu­nity for the en­tire com­mu­nity to see and be seen. The sand and artists are the stars, but it’s the area beaches that shine.

“It is such a unique event that helps drive tourism and show­cases one of the re­gion’s best as­sets—its world-class beaches,” says Jim Gib­son, di­rec­tor of mar­ket­ing at Semi­nole Casino Ho­tel Immokalee. “It is these type of events that we love to get be­hind to im­prove the qual­ity of life here on the Par­adise Coast and build aware­ness in the rest of the world.”

In other words, just another day at the beach.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW Daily ad­mis­sion is $5 for those age 5 and older. Chil­dren age 4 and un­der have free ad­mis­sion. Save money by pur­chas­ing ad­vance online day and multi-day passes.

As in the past, 20 per­cent of the open­ing day’s gate pro­ceeds will go to Make-A-Wish South­ern Florida Inc.

For a sched­ule of events and list of spon­sors, visit: fmb­sand­sculpt­ing.com.

The sculp­tures range from sea themes to fan­tasy to repli­cas of hu­man stat­ues. Judges look for cre­ativ­ity, imag­i­na­tion and skill re­vealed by the com­plex­ity and de­tails of each cre­ation. “The fine de­tails are what set these sculp­tures apart,” says...

This year’s event is ex­pected to draw more than 40,000 visi­tors over a two-day pe­riod.

In­spi­ra­tion comes from many sources: ev­ery­day items, sym­bols of peo­ple or time pe­ri­ods from an artist’s life, or just a spon­ta­neous in­ter­pre­ta­tion of wild imag­i­na­tions.

Cham­pi­onship en­try is by in­vi­ta­tion, so only top-level sand sculp­tors com­pete in both sin­gles and dou­bles di­vi­sions.

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