Castles Made of Sand

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This Sunday, Oct. 3, the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce will hold its 49th annual Sandcastle Contest on picturesque Corona del Mar State Beach.  Hosted by the CdM Chamber’s Commodores Club, I had to smile when I saw that the event was being presented by (pause for effect) Doggie Walk Bags.

(You may recall my column “It’s a Boardwalk, Not a Poop Deck” in which I extol the virtues of Doggie Walk Bags.  If you missed it, find it online in our archives at, click on the digital version of the NB Indy and – voila! – you travel back in newspaper time!)

Anyway, some years ago, as a fledgling public affairs supervisor working on the British Airways account, I was assigned a community relations project: to find a sandcastle building architect who would represent BA in the U.S. Open Sandcastle Contest held each year in San Diego.  Not aware that such a profession existed, I finally found a man in the area who, by the looks of his sandcastle portfolio, could be our champ.  I faxed him the design (no email in those days), and met him on the big day at our designated sand plot.

His assistant and a small team of British Airways employee volunteers, at the sound of the start horn, tscurried about like a team of crazed ants following his instructions to cart water, build sand mounds and then, well, stay out of the way.

The result?  A 20-foot, perfectly scaled Boeing 747 – complete with the British Airways logo carved meticulously along the body of the plane.

I was impressed.  And because the contest draws more 350,000 people who come to visit the weekend-long event, my client was one happy camper with the visibility we garnered.  We only won second place in the business category, but my appreciation of sand sculpturing was set fast.

According to the experts at, who think the world would be a better place if more people were having fun in the sand, the magic to building something spectacular is compaction.

So if you are planning to hit Corona del Mar State Beach this weekend for the Chamber’s event, here’s a hot tip for success.  There are three ways to compact sand: “softpack” is the most intuitive: pack and pat moist sand into a mound that roughly resembles the shape you are envisioning. “Handstacking” will help you reach greater heights in altitude while letting water and gravity do the compacting for you. And if you want to “go big,” then you will want to give forms a try.

Serious sand sculptors usually use a combination of these three methods.

And just because there is a “Masters” class team category with seasoned professionals coming out to show their stuff, don’t be intimidated.  I’ve seen some pretty impressive “amateur” work around town and I must say, we’ve got some darn talented 5-year-olds holding court on the beaches.

So whether you’re a pro or just like to feel the sand between your toes while admiring sand art, everyone is welcome.  If you plan to compete, there are various levels of sponsorships, but otherwise the event is free!

For more information or to register, go to

Newport Beach resident, Lynn Selich is a weekly columnist with the NB Indy, associate publisher of Newport Beach magazine and society editor for both publications. She can be reached at [email protected]

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