Last weekend, I crossed another item off my bucket list: I attended “Sandcastle Days 2013” on South Padre Island.
Sandcastle Days is a 3-day event which attracts master sand sculptors from around the world, all competing to become a “Master of Sand”. The annual event takes place the first weekend of October which fell this year on the 4th through 6th. It was started 26 years ago by Master Sand sculptors Walter McDonald (aka Amazin' Walter) and Lucinda Wierenga (aka Sandy Feet) and has grown from a local celebration to one of the most respected art events in the country.
“Sand Castle” is almost a misnomer for this event because most of the showpieces are not castles (though there are some). Designs typically include people, animals, buildings, mythical creatures. I’ve always been downright amazed by great sand art – it seems almost impossible to create such intricate detail in something as temperamental (and temporal) as sand. South Padre supposedly has some of the best sand for this art form so it’s a perfect location to host this event. I figured it would be entertaining to watch these sand sculptors at work. At the very least, how bad could a day spent on SPI’s beaches be?
I found out that it’s a bit more than just entertainment, this is true art. The skill of these sculptors is apparent in the minute detail of their work. I found myself mesmerized by the process of carving away the smallest bits of sand to create the fantastic detail in these pieces. At the end, I couldn’t believe that there would only be one first-place winner.
During the event, free sand sculpting lessons are available to anyone who wants to try their hand at it. I took one short lesson and I enjoyed it so much, I took another more “serious” class on my own with South Padre’s sand legend, Amazin' Walter. Maybe “serious” is the wrong word, because Walter is not exactly a serious guy. He’s quite a character. He looks a bit like Santa on vacation, wearing his signature pith helmet and he had me chuckling at his funny comments and expressions. But he’s also a great artist, a wonderful teacher and very passionate about the environment. I’m not much of an artist myself, but I did see that even without the inborn talent, there were many tricks of the trade and things I could learn to become at least a good amateur.
On the shores of South Padre, thousands of sand sculptures have risen up and been swallowed by the tides. But in some strange way, that is part of the appeal: knowing that something so unique and beautiful is there in front of you for that brief moment and never again.