Onlookers watched — and at times dodged — bulldozers and backhoes moving hundreds of tons of sand into piles Nov. 5, on Siesta Key Beach.
Shirtless sand sculptors carve niches into a hardening wall of the soft sand, and fire hoses blast the piles with water.
It’s less than one week until the Siesta Key Crystal Classic Master Sand Sculpting Competition, and the sponsor display is taking shape southeast of the beach pavilion. There will be three days of festivities, including the master sand-sculpting competition, amateur sculpting contest and quick-sculpting event, at the third annual event, which is shaping up to be the biggest so far.
Organizers sold out of spots for the vendor village, which will be made up of food and retail booths, a month ago, said Crystal Classic Steering Committee member Lourdes Ramirez.
Twenty-two sculptors competed in the inaugural event in 2010, and 24 participated the following year. Twenty-four sculptors from as far away as Singapore are scheduled to dig, pack and carve this year, including 2010 winner Sue McGrew and last year’s champ, Karen Fralich.
“I love contests, I adore them; to me it’s like cotton candy — I just can’t wait for the next one,” Fralich said.
The pair last worked together at the North American Sand Sculpting Championship in 2010 and sculpted two folk dancers they called “Celtic Sisters,” which won a $3,000 fourth-place prize.
Fralich won the solo competition at the North American Sand Sculpting Championship this year and finished second at the 2012 Fulong Sand Sculpture Festival, where she was edged out by another 2012 Crystal Classic competitor: Singaporean artist Joo Heng Tan.
Fralich worked with Dan Belcher to create the dark equine-themed “Nightmares” at the 2011 Crystal Classic, but she said their schedules didn’t align this year.
“Sue called and asked if I wanted to do it, and, of course, I was honored,” Fralich said.
McGrew won the Crystal Classic in 2010 with “Circle of Life” and has been busy working on the Travel Channel show, “Sand Masters,” this season.
Local master sandsculptor Brian Wigelsworth, who took third place in the North American Sand Sculpting Championships this year, said in an interview earlier this year one of the biggest challenges for a sculptor is setting out with a unique vision, as well as never-before-seen techniques.
“That’s one of the hardest things for me,” Fralich said. Ideas can bubble up during menial daily activities such as washing dishes, she said.
Another challenge comes from the fact that the world-famous Siesta sand loses a lot of hardness as it dries, meaning sculptors have to dig deeper for more course sand, Fralich said.
“But, it feels so nice — it’s like talcum powder,” Fralich said. “It carves like butter.”
Fralich and McGrew have kicked around sculpture ideas through Skype, but haven’t settled on a vision for the Crystal Classic.
“I’m just going to kind of dive in and see what happens,” Fralich said.
IF YOU GO
What: Siesta Key Crystal Classic Master Sand Sculpting Competition
When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 8 through Monday, Nov. 12
Where: Siesta Key public beach, 948 Beach Road, Siesta Key
Transportation: Buses available from Phillippi Estate Park, 5500 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota