Sculptors return to take over sand
A world famous art competition will return to Fort Myers Beach this weekend for its 32nd year.
The medium? Sand.
Boasting 25 master sculptors and 10 advanced amateurs from eight different countries and more than 10 states, this international competition will bring the best sand artists together on Fort Myers Beach.
More than 40 sculptures by professional sand champions will fill the beach behind the Wyndham Garden Hotel on Lovers Key.
Organizers expect roughly 50,000 visitors to the island over the 10-day event, and an influx of cash into the local economy.
“It has a huge economic impact,” said Jacki Liszak, president of the Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce. “With 50,000 people coming in and putting heads in beds and staying the night, we don’t have hard numbers, but it has a significant impact. It’s also over the holiday week, so a lot of people turn this into their vacation.”
Organizer Marianne Knight agrees.
“You can just drive by anywhere during the event, and every place is packed or sold out or has lines waiting to get in,” Knight said.
Knight and her husband, Bill, organize the event through their family business, The Sand Lovers.
The pair has managed 21 major competitions and founded several major sandsculpting events.
They established the first Advanced Amateur National Championships in 2016, the first all-woman sandsculpting competition in 2013, and produced the Michigan Sand Sculpting State Championships, the first competition of its kind in the state of Michigan.
Knight says their love affair with sand began nearly 20 years ago.
“I was a boater, I’ve always been a boater. We’d go to the beach and just start playing in the sand,” she said. “We saw the big event here on Fort Myers Beach, we went to it, and we were like, Oh, that’s awesome! We want to try that! We just started messing around on the beach, and next thing we knew, we were entering amateur contests and advanced amateur contests, and then a master division, and then opening our own company.”
This Saturday, the competition will host an amateur contest for other interested artists who want to try their hand at the medium.
“Anyone can enter it. We supply the water and the pile of sand, and they bring their own tools. They’ve got five hours to create something,” Knight said. “That’s where a lot of people start.”
The Knights are not the only family for which sand has become a lifestyle.
“Amazin Walter” McDonald of South Padre Island will compete alongside his daughter, Christy McDonald Atkinson.
In the first week of Solo events, they will compete against each other.
McDonald says she has beat him before.
“On my home beach of all places!” he said, laughing.
The second week of Doubles events, they will sculpt something together.
Seventy-seven-year old McDonald, who claims he is “the oldest sand sculptor in captivity,” is famous for his arches, which he constructs without using forms or molds, but by hand-stacking the sand.
“I almost always work a castle into it no matter what,” he said, when asked about his plans for the competition. “I just stick with what I know best, and castles are it!”
McDonald entered and won his first competition on Fort Myers Beach in 1993.
“There were maybe 10 sculptors,” he said. “You had to dig the sand up off the beach.”
Now, sculptors are provided with a pile of sand, some of which is scraped from the existing beach.
Knight estimates that 18 to 20 truckloads of sand are brought in for the event, and used to replenish the beach after it ends.
McDonald particularly loves the bright white color of the sand on Fort Myers Beach.
“I’ve done some of my most beautiful sculptures in Fort Myers,” he said.
The competition will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. everyday from Friday, Nov 16, to Sunday, Nov 25, with the final Saturday and Sunday running until 6 p.m, behind the Wyndham Garden Hotel at 6890 Estero Blvd.
The event will also feature Quick Speed sand sculpting battles, holiday sand sculpture photo ops, sculpting demonstrations, activities for kids, and more than 50 vendors.
Tickets cost $7 per person, with kids 4 and under admitted free, and $1 discounts for veterans, service members, and first responders with I.D.
Parking will be free at the Lovers’ Key event parking lot, with a complimentary shuttle provided to and from the event. Arrival from the south is encouraged to avoid traffic and ongoing construction on Estero Boulevard.