Beach Battle

At the 17th annual American Institute of Architects Sandcastle Building Competition, you won't find amateurs making basic bucket-and-shovel sculptures. Instead, people who build homes and skyscrapers for a living will be constructing elaborate works of art, turning Galveston's East Beach into a temporary gallery.

"The process of creating a sand sculpture," says Martha Seng of Jackson Ryan Architects, "is not too different from that of constructing a building."

The work itself can consist of only two elements: sand and water. To get the sand at the right consistency, the Jackson Ryan team will use the same tools construction workers use to pour concrete. "The trick to carving sand is compaction," says Seng. "It must be kept very wet while it is in the form." Apparently, the Galveston petro-sand is perfect for sculpting.

Thousands of people gather each year to watch East Beach's transformation; the competition is second in popularity only to Mardi Gras. Teams take their inspiration from politics and pop culture (once in a while, a group builds an actual castle). Awards categories include Most Hilarious, Best Team T-shirt, Best Architectural Theme and Public Favorite.

To get ahead of the competition, groups try their best to stand out. Common methods include themes, costumes, signage, music and theater. Seng's team once dressed up in costumes and sang "The Time Warp" for their "Rocky Horror Sandcastle Show."

Another year, disaster almost struck when the headless, legless and armless black knight from their "Monty Python and the Holy Pail" creation collapsed an hour before judging. The group worked quickly to repair the knight and scored the coveted Golden Bucket award.

Up to 80 teams are expected to haul out their shovels for this year's competition, and Seng is not ruling out a little espionage to find out what others are planning. "All's fair in love and war," she cackles. And the theme of the Jackson Ryan Architects' sculpture this year? "I could tell you," she says, "but then I'd have to kill you."

The competition happens Saturday, June 7. Sculpting runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Awards will be given at 4:30 p.m. East Beach in Galveston (take Seawall Boulevard to Boddeker Drive and follow the signs). For information, call 713-520-0155. Admission is free with $5 parking fee.

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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero