Hampton sand sculpting competition returns

Hampton Beach will soon be buzzing as the 18th Annual Hampton Beach Master Sand Sculpting Classic gets underway.
This is not a fill your bucket with sand and flip it over kind of sand castle competition. More than 250 tons of sand will be imported and dropped on the beach to be used by internationally renowned sand-sculpting artists to create massive, 10- to 20-ton statuesque masterpieces in competition for the $15,000 purse split between the top six finalists.

Greg Grady has acted as the mastermind behind the event since its creation back in 2000. Though he’s a master sculptor himself, he prefers to stay out of his own competitions and acts as chief organizer instead.
Preparation for this annual event started Monday, June 11, when 100 tons of sand were used to construct the demo site, created by Grady and “The Grady Bunch,” that will act as a stage for the competitors to showcase their work.
Beginning Thursday, June 14, the competitors have only a couple of days to construct and perfect their sculptures for judging. Public voting begins Saturday, June 16, between 1 and 3 p.m. for the People’s Choice Awards. Winners will be announced at the Sea Shell Stage that night at 8 p.m., followed by a fireworks display at 9:30 p.m.

Despite the competitive aspect of the event, it is the family-friendly entertainment and community-building appeal that draws the artists as well as the crowds back for more year after year. Fourteen artists from around the world will be at the event, with 10 competing in this year’s showcase. The other four well-respected invitees, including Grady, can be found conducting free sand-sculpting lessons for any and all interested parties.

“The number one thing about it is that it’s free,” Grady said. “It is a great family-oriented event, and it is museum-quality work on the beach. A lot of people that come to Hampton have never been to a museum, and they actually get to see quite nice pieces of art down there for free.”

Justin Gordon, a competitor in this year’s competition, agreed. “I think people really like the artistic element,” Gordon said. “They come to see an artist at work and you don’t get to see that everywhere. Sand sculpting is an event where people can watch the event in action and they get to see something that you don’t get to see every day. It’s a rare visual event.”

And it’s not difficult to get these professional sand sculptors to come to Hampton.
“Greg Grady takes really good care of the sculptors,” Gordon said. “We’re fed well and treated well and given really nice goodie bags.” Gordon said the quality of the sand is a major draw as well.

“The sand that we’re given here is an 11 out of 10. The high silt content helps it pack really well,” Gordon said.

The Hampton Beach Master Sand Sculpting Classic began in the summer of 2000 when Grady was asked by the U.S. Mint to sculpt a massive special New Hampshire-edition quarter dollar out of sand at the Hampton Beach Children’s Festival.

This honor bestowed on Grady sparked what became the annual tradition that is still celebrated to this day and has become the largest master sand-sculpting competition in the northeastern United States, according to the Hampton Beach website.

“‘Summer starts here’ is the tagline on this year’s brochure, and it does for a lot of New Hampshire. Summer really seems to start at Hampton Beach with the sand sculptures,” said Grady.

Following the completion of the competition, a sealant of glue and water will be sprayed on all the pieces to best preserve them against the harsh salty Atlantic winds to be illuminated nightly until June 27. As a result, the beachline of Hampton will become a museum-esque landscape for all to wander and gaze at the enormous sculptures created from nothing more than sand, water and hard work.

“We do that for the people that can’t make it down for the actual competition. … A lot of people who come to look at this event are people who do not typically go to the beach. It brings in a different crowd. It seems to be one of the only things that people come to the beach for in the rain to look at. It has a uniqueness to it,” Grady said. “It has become a staple in New Hampshire and so we give them the extra time to come down. When the event first started we were up and down in a week, and through popular demand we started ending the event with the extra time.”

— Andrew Clay

*Featured photograph is of the Hampton Beach Sand sculptures. Courtesy photo. 

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