The Siesta Key Crystal Classic Master Sandsculpting Competition “was wildly successful in its first year (2010),” Virginia Haley, president of the Sarasota Visitors and Convention Bureau, said Monday.
And even though it drew tens of thousands of residents to the island, organizers had no expectation how quickly the Crystal Classic would attain major international status.
The event’s selection as host of the World Championships of Sand Sculpting Doubles competition in only its second year shocked organizers.
“(It) was one of those things you hoped to have four or five years down the road,” Haley said. “It’s going to be amazing,” Haley said.
This year’s participation of three of the sculptors from The Travel Channel’s “Sand Masters” show, Haley said, also is bringing to the event “a whole new league of fans.”
Thanks to “Sand Masters,” Haley said, more and more people have realized that master sandsculpting competitions are not just about sandcastles. “These are professional-level (creations),” she added.
Siesta’s own master sandsculptor, Brian Wigelsworth, came up with the idea of the event on the Key after traveling all over the United States and overseas to participate in competitions.
“I’m expecting 80,000 to 100,000 people this year,” he said of the Crystal Classic.
The 2010 event brought drew 60,000 people, Haley said, agreeing with Wigelsworth about a bigger count this year.
“I would expect this year to see growth,” she said.
Haley cautioned only that those people not staying on the Key should plan on taking the shuttles that will operate regularly from the parking area at Phillippi Estate Park, located at 5500 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota.
“Really, the easiest thing is to stay on Siesta Key,” she said, and walk or bike to the beach.
Along with the larger crowd, another new facet for the 2011 Crystal Classic will be Wigelsworth’s creation of an 8- to 10-foot sand replica of the Marine Corps Memorial in Arlington, Va., which depicts Marines raising the American flag on Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi during World War II. Wigelsworth’s sculpture will be unveiled Nov. 10, during a ceremony marking the Marine Corps’ 236th birthday.
“They’re going to draw a lot of people on Thursday,” Haley said.
Eileen Parkinson, co-chair of the Crystal Classic with her husband, Bob, said organizers have contacted veterans group to let them know about the Nov. 10 program.
“We have no idea whether 20 (veterans) will show up or 200,” Parkinson said. “It should be quite moving.”
Additionally, Wigelsworth said the traditional “group carve,” in which all the participating sandsculptors collaborate on sponsor logos and other artwork representative of the Crystal Classic, will be dedicated to veterans.
“We’re going to have a really great show,” he said. “We have the finest natural beach sand for sandsculpting.”
Parkinson said the 24 artists were scheduled to arrive in Sarasota throughout the day Monday. Wigelsworth was hosting a reception for them at his home that night.
Eileen Parkinson and her husband had been out to Siesta Public Beach Monday morning, she said, to observe as county staff moved the sand, “creating the huge piles” from which the sculptors will carve their entries. A couple of non-competing sandsculptors were helping direct the bulldozers, Eileen Parkinson added.
Along with the Nov. 10 event for veterans, she said, the amateur sandsculpting event on Sunday, which will be judged by the master sculptors, also has been drawing considerable attention. Registration for that event begins at 8 a.m.; the sculpting will begin at 9 a.m. and conclude at 1 p.m.
The $18,000 in prize money for the master sculptors will be awarded during a 3 p.m. ceremony Sunday.
The Vendor Village, offering a selection of food, beverages, specialty retail items and arts and crafts will be open Friday through Sunday. Artwork also will be made available Monday.
“It’s just very exciting to have the entire community come together to create this event on the beach,” Parkinson said.
In coming years, Wigelsworth hopes the Crystal Classic can join forces with the Chalk Festival, which concluded Sunday.
“I can see Sarasota being a real ephemeral arts center,” he said.
At 9:30 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 10, the 2011 Siesta Key Crystal Classic Master Sandsculpting Competition will kick off on Siesta Public Beach with a military color guard, the singing of the national anthem by opera star and Temple Beth Sholom cantor Jeffrey Weber and remarks by County Commission Chairwoman Nora Patterson; Danny Bilyeu, field representative for U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan of Longboat Key; and retired U.S. Marine Corps Master Gunnery Sgt. “Top” Harrison.
The ceremony will include the unveiling of a sand replica of the national Marine Corps monument in Arlington, Va.
The Crystal Classic will remain open until 4:30 p.m. Nov. 10. The event will run through Nov. 14.
Tickets are $5 per day, or $10 for a three-day pass. Proceeds go to Mote Marine Lab’s Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Hospital.
For more details, click here, or visit www.crystalsand.org.