Guerrilla Sand Sculpture Competition
Report from the Other End of the Island
Friday, 8:30 AM - Steve "Dunehead" Mutter and I pick up our rent car at the Sheraton. The Feet-Mobile is great for tooling around SPI but not so great for trips that require AC and good tunes. We take it as a good omen that our Malibu is fully equipped with a CD player. We load up shovels and buckets and carving tools and form materials and rain gear and lanterns and bananas and beer - all essential equipment for a sand castle contest.
The contest on North Padre Island is unique in that competitors are allowed to work throughout the night of the 24 hour contest period that starts at 1 PM on Friday. The party has already started by the time we arrive and will only grow - reportedly to some 130,000 - as the night goes on, peaking early on Sat. when the bands crank up and the bikini contest entrants start their preening. As in years past, the sand castle part of this event takes a distant back seat to the other more spring break-like festivities.
I have had a long love-hate relationship with this contest. The hours are grueling, you have to shovel an amazing amount of sand to get up to eye level and the bigger the pile gets, the more water you have to tote up from the Gulf to keep it stabilized. By the time judging rolls around I am usually too tired and sand-blasted to even care who wins. But thusfar I had won every time I entered (either as a solo or as part of a team with Amazin' Walter.) The prize money is good - REALLY good, actually - and the easy camaraderie among the the people who know we are all going to do a lot of shoveling into the wee hours so we'd best sit down with a beer and take a break or three has a lot to do with why I keep coming back.
This year is different in that I have a sponsor - Padre Ford/Mazda. They want to pay me money to feature their Protege 5 in my sculpture. I decide to let them. Upon arrival I discover that the dealership employees think that they are going to be my team and I their leader. I eye these weekend warriars who have evidently started hitting the brewskies at an early hour and say "No way. I'm doing it solo. But rules say you can carry water for me." 45 minutes and maybe 10 buckets of water later, they have all either disappeared or passed out.
11 PM - I have shoveled through sunshine and rain. I have shoveled until I can shovel no more. I have toted hundreds of buckets of water up from a gulf that is moving ever further away with the tide. My friend Mike Ellis - editor of the Padre Island Moon - shows up with a pizza and more beer and we chat and watch the teams kick into high gear on their shovels. Mike leaves, I curl up in my beach chair and attempt to snooze. This is not easy, as the Mazda crew has discovered its second wind and cranked the tunes and the party up a notch. It is well past 3AM when things finally start winding down.
Saturday, 6:05 AM - I wake with the sunrise and commence to start carving all the sand I moved yesterday. Dunehead is looking very good with a detailed castle that draws many admiring glances. It occurs to me that my prize student is going to beat me out of first place this time. I console myself with thoughts of my sponsorship bucks and keep carving.
1 PM - In the past 7 hours I have transformed my pile into a stylized version of the Mazda driving up a road to a 6' tall castle. In one corner 3 beach babe mermaids hold up signs - zoom zoom zoom! I am satisfied.
Shortly after the finish, my friend Dale Ligon shows up with some newpapers. I have made the cover of the Padre Island Moon and Dunehead and I grace the front page of the Corpus Christi Caller Times. Cool.
4PM - Only an hour later than scheduled, the results are in. Dunehead takes first - no surprise there. I win third, beaten out of second by a local woman who has created a pretty little lighthouse scene. It's nice, but very small and I am wondering why I bothered shoveling all those tons of sand ... Once again I console myself with thoughts of those sponsorship bucks.
Just to make sure we sculptors understand how insignificant we are, there are no checks or trophies to collect, though they might be available "in a couple of weeks or so."
Party Time - With the work behind us it is time for some fun. North Padre Island proper - unlike its southern counterpart - doesn't have much in the way of bars. (Kelly of SPI's Irish Pub reckons we have one bar for every 40 residents here; the ratio is more like 4000:1 on NPI... go figure.) So when a celebration is in order, residents and tourists alike cruise over to Port Aransas. I know a few folks there from previous visits and manage to have a bunch of fun -- right up until the moment I can no longer keep my eyes open.
Sunday, 9:00 AM - Dunehead and I grab a quick cup of coffee and a copy of the Caller-Times which - mostly he but also we - are all over. Once again, SPI walks off with the money and the press coverage. The road south is long but straight and the car wants to go fast.... which is good because we have to make a 2 PM appointment with a bunch of eager sand castle students on our home beach.