Setting Up a Sand Castle Contest

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Do you have access to a beach that is under-utilized, sandcastle-wise?


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As one who is both a masters level competitor as well as an 10-year veteran of organizing South Padre Island's Sand Castle Days competition, I feel I have a little bit of a unique perspective on the whole thing.

My conclusion? It's more fun to compete than it is to organize.

But someone has to do the dirty work... and it really is worth the time and effort. Some day when I am feeling really ambitious, I will research and compile a detailed outline of how to organize an event like this. In the meantime, I hope these scattered notes may be of some assistance.

There are many different levels of sand sculpting competition: open (amateur) contests draw participants, but if you can come up with enough prize money to sponsor a masters division you will have a real show. (More on that, later.)


You will want to tailor your open categories to fit the kind of participants you hope to attract. We've done some fine-tuning on our categories this year, including limiting team size because the larger teams were blowing away the smaller ones with sheer numbers. It's a good idea to involve groups that are already organized - church, school, boy/girl scouts, etc. - as soon as you have your dates/categories firmed up.

Just to give you some examples, here are the categories we use in our Open Contest:

  • youth elementary (6 max - adult hands-off guidance only - 4 hours)
  • youth secondary (6 max - adult hands-off guidance only - 4 hours)
  • family/adult groups (up to 6 adults and as many kids as you want - 6 hours_
  • solo (12 and older - 6 hours)
  • Texas State Championship (1-2 serious adult sculptors - 8 hours)

We also give prizes in the "Peoples Choice" category on both days of our contest. The ballot doubles as a questionaire that has resulted in a sizable mailing list over the years.


The prizes you offer are obviously limited by your budget. You may be able to get amateurs to compete in your open contest for nifty trophies, pennents or donated merchandise, but the masters will need a minimum first prize of $1000 to attract them. Our contest prizes include:


  • 1st place - $1500 and event pennent
  • 2nd place - $750 and event pennent
  • 3rd place - $500 and event pennent

Open (each category)

  • 1st place - $100 and event pennent
  • 2nd place - $50 and event pennent
  • 3rd place - $25 and event pennent

People's Choice (both masters and open)

  • event pennent and whatever money is left over in our budget


It's not too early to start working on corporate sponsors... if you haven't already. Especially if you are planning a masters competition. We always strive to get an airline as a sponsor for our event - they provide plane tickets for us to fly in the pros as we are so far away from everyone. More and more it is getting harder to get the best sculptors to attend if they have to pay all their own expenses (we also provide all pre-registered masters with free on-site accommodations.) For that reason, a majority of the masters contests are solo events.

Don't hesitate to hit up local businesses as well. We were able to feed our master sculptors all of their meals last year for free at local restaurants. They are also provided with rooms by the hosting hotel.


Judging is really the bugaboo of a masters level competition.Unlike Olympic events, you can't expect sculptors to conform to a rigid set of requirements or standards.There is simply no way to judge sand scupture objectively. Non-sculptors or even design professionals may "know what they like," but still be unequipped to judge technique and artistry unique to the medium. For this reason, recently many contests have turned to a masters-judged format, with competitors rating every sculpture but their own. The problem with this plan is that sculptors are only human and may be tempted to intentionally mark down a close competitor to boost his/her own ratings.Some organizers favor opening up the judging to the public -- the crowd is, after all, the whole reason for the event.

Master sculptor Damon Farmer has proposed a type of "Informed People's Choice" judging system that was tested at SPI Sandcastle Days 96 and seemed to work very well.


As part of the "home team" and organizers of our contest, Amazin' Walter and I do not compete. We assemble a team to do a large demonstration castle which includes the carved logos of our sponsors, who are also noted on the t-shirt and poster designs. We start a day or two early which helps build excitment for the upcoming event. I also give free instruction in sand castle building in the weeks prior to the event to help stir up local interest and increase participation. A demo castle is a good idea if your budget allows.

If you have any questions, or if you would like information on what it would cost to have the SO Bs build a demonstration castle at your contest (I gotta at least mention that!) please do not hesitate to E-MAIL ME

To see if there is another team or master sculptor in your area, check out the Master Sculptor List.

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