World's best sand sculptors to vie in A.C.

John Gowdy, sand sculptor and the event's producer, is shown with a work called "Lifeguard Rescue."
John Gowdy, sand sculptor and the event's producer, is shown with a work called "Lifeguard Rescue."
Posted: June 09, 2013

ATLANTIC CITY - It appeared to be very bad timing Friday for the World Championship of Sand Sculpting to be taking delivery of 1.2 million pounds of sand just as the remnants of Tropical Storm Andrea dumped torrents of rain at the Jersey Shore.

This is the same coastline, after all, where 10 million cubic yards of sand was displaced by Hurricane Sandy in the blink of an eye.

But organizers were confident that the 470 cubic yards of sand trucked in from a Tuckahoe quarry would stay put where it was unloaded, along the south side of the Pier Shops at Caesars.

In fact, said Charlie Beaulieu, director of the championship and a renowned sand sculptor who has won the competition, there was a bonus from the bad weather: The pounding rain would help make the giant pile uniformly wet.

"You can't do anything with dry sand," said Beaulieu, 54, a Washington state native who knows his way around a pile of sand, having won 12 titles and set seven Guinness Book of World Records marks for his sculpting.

Over the next week, crews are to distribute the material to the plots within a fenced area where the sculptors will work.

This is Atlantic City's big shot at jumping back into the international arena with a kind of Miss America, ahem, Miss Universe of sand sculpting. The contest will bring 27 top competitors from 13 countries to the Queen of Resorts between Thursday and June 30.

The sculptors, who will compete in head-to-head singles and doubles competitions for more than $16,000 in prize money, placed in qualifying rounds in places like Malaysia and Australia to have the chance to compete here. They will use nothing but water and fine-grade sand to create their fanciful art forms. In previous competitions, the works have included elaborately sculpted sea shells and a 14-foot-tall sand castle.

"It's a dream of mine to permanently bring this competition to Atlantic City . . . really back to Atlantic City, in a way," said Beaulieu.

That's music to the ears of local officials. This will be only the third time the championship event has been held in the United States since it began in the 1980s, and the first time in Atlantic City.

"It's ultimately going to be a wonderful spectacle that's going to bring all kinds of people to Atlantic City over the course of the 18 days and beyond," said Jeff Guaracino, chief strategy and communications officer for the Atlantic City Alliance, which is sponsoring the free event that will be open to the public daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., rain or shine.

The competitors will build their sculptures along the same beach where the art of building castles in the sand for monetary gain is said to have begun in 1897.

Groups of sand artists then worked alongside the Boardwalk, using their temporary masterpieces to entice passersby to toss them coins in the sand. The practice flourished until a 1944 hurricane washed away the enclave.

And while it might seem like carrying coals to Newcastle to truck beach sand to a beach, John Gowdy, 56, the event's producer and a retired Atlantic City firefighter who has been a successful competitive sand shaper for 26 years, insists that the silica brought in Friday is special, quite unlike regular beach sand.

"This is ancient beach sand," Gowdy said. "This is sand that was on the beach a million years ago, with just the right amount of silt and clay in it to make it perfect for sculpting."


Contact Jacqueline L Urgo at 609-652-8382 or jurgo@phillynews.com. Read the Jersey Shore blog "Downashore" at philly.com/downashore. Follow on Twitter @JacquelineUrgo.

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