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Dear sandy feet,

Sand Castle Days '99 is almost here and my little girl wants to enter and win so bad. Could you furnish me a list of the judges with their shipping addresses and beverage preferences?

No, I can't do that. What I can do, however, is give you a clue as to what they will probably be looking for and give you some ideas and tips on how to build a winning sculpture.

Getting Sand Up in the Air

To build any kind of impressive sand sculpture, you must get a lot of very wet sand up into the atmosphere. There are three ways to do this: hand stack, volcano pack and forms. As I am guessing that most amateurs are not up to the formidable task of building, lugging, filling and tamping huge concrete forms, we will concentrate on the first two options:

Volcano Pack - Shovel a bunch of dry sand into a big pile. Stomp it really good. Push up the sides so they form a volcano-like crater on top and pour buckets of water into it. When the water has seeped into the pile so that it is nicely saturated, shovel some more sand on top and repeat.

Hand Stack - Mix up sand and water, either in a hole you have dug by the water's edge or in a bucket. Scoop out a big handful and flatten into a pancake on your base. Keep stacking these pancakes on top of each other, gently jiggling them to help the water get evenly distributed. Use smaller handfuls as you gain altitude. Stack on top of a volcano pack for added height.

Carving Tools

You can do some rough shaping using your hands, but you will need a few simple carving tools for fine detail. Anything with a straight edge will work, such as a kitchen knife (metal or plastic), putty knife, trowel, etc. Use a spoon or melon baller for scooping out arched doorways or scalloped edges. Use a plastic knife with the end broken off or the tapered handle of a spoon for scraping out doors and windows. An old paintbrush is great for smoothing away knife marks and loose sand, and you can use its pointed handle to etch out big rocks around the base of your sculpture.

What the Judges Look For

As Amazin' Walter is fond of saying, "The judges be the judges and there's no accounting for taste." However, in most contest situations, judges will be impressed by height/size, originality of design, and technical difficulty - which means you should try to carve some overhangs and cut-throughs.

Castles are fun to build and a perennial (and personal) favorite - but don't feel that is what you have to build to win. If architecture is your thing, consider creating a cluster of skyscrapers (lots of windows) or a row of little gingerbread houses with chimneys dribbled on top.

Animals or characters from kids' movies are also popular themes (any Iron Giants in the neighborhood?). To create a realistic creature, do what the professionals do: search for a small 3-D figurine you can use as a model.

Carving or smoothing your sculpture to the ground and cleaning up around the area can make the difference between winning or just finishing. Even a very small sculpture looks better if there are no rough edges or loose sand laying around at judging time, so be sure to allow enough time to finish.

Finally, make sure you bring a camera and take lots of photos of your finished sculpture so you can always remember how much fun you had!

Note: This year there are small entry fees in all categories (fee includes event t-shirt.) You can save some bucks by pre-registering. I will be giving free lessons the morning of the contest at the competition site. For more detailed and fully-illustrated tips, visit the Sons of the Beach sand castle pages at http://sandcastlecentral or pick up a copy of my how-to booklet at Ship Shape Beach Accessories shop (next to Rovans).(Also available on-line - along with sets of the SoB line of specialty carving tools.) For more information on Sand Castle Days (scheduled for Oct. 16, 1999 on the beach at the Surf Motel) including category and prize information and printable registration forms, visit the contest web site at http://sandcastledays.com - or contact the SPI Convention and Visitors Bureau at 956-761-3000. This event is sponsored by the town of South Padre Island and the Surf Motel. The very cool event logo was designed by talented local artist Tony Schaub.

Feet's Totally Non-Scientific Just For Fun Net Poll Results: My most recent question asked what you think is the best reason to visit/hang around SPI after the summer season ends. Twenty six votes have been cast and these are the current results: A) Locals parties (7.7%); B) Bikefest (0%); C) Summer weather without summer crowds (76.9 %); D) Sand Castle Days (15.4%); E) Hurricane roulette (0%).

Sandy Asks: I am sorry but I find these results incomplete and unacceptable. So you don't get a new poll until everyone votes on this one! (Come on bikers -- where are you?) Vote today at http://spionline.com/polls.html.

There are five (5) ways to submit your questions/comments for future Ask Sandy columns: In person; by phone (761-6222) or fax (761-8930); the US Postal System (box 2694,spi,78597) and E-mail: (sandyfeet@unlitter.com). Visit my web-site (http://spionline.com/) for tips on sandcastling, contest info, recent Ask Sandy columns, and my reviews of local businesses.

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