Basking in the sand

HANALEI — When Thomas Macias and his partner, James Pepper, saw posters around town for a sand sculpture competition next to the Hanalei Pier, the part-time Hanalei residents knew they had found the perfect weekend activity to do with their son.

“We try to come here about two or three times a year, when (my son) has school breaks,” Macias said on Saturday as he helped Pepper and his son put the finishing touches on their sand sculpture of a dragon adorned with carved scales, inspired by “Puff the Magic Dragon,” the well-known Peter, Paul and Mary song.

“This is the first time that we’ve ever participated in anything like this,” he said.   

Armed with a shovel and rake, the South Hollywood, Calif., couple and their 10-year-old son, Adam Pepper-Macias, joined the nearly 500 people in 85 teams on Black Pot Beach for this year’s annual one-day Hawaii Sand Castle Art and Sculpture Festival.  

Hawaii Sand Castle co-founder Julian Miller said he first created the event nearly four years ago after discovering there were very few sand castle competitions or workshops anywhere on Kauai and in the state.

“I used to tell this to my friends all the time and then one day one of them probably got sick of hearing it and said, ‘Why don’t you do it yourself?’” Miller said with a laugh.

And, since then, the idea and the competition took off.

In the first year alone, Miller said he was surprised when nearly 200 people showed up for the event instead of the small group of friends that he was expecting.

About 300 people, he said, have attended each of the sand castle competitions over the last two years.

“I think everybody has that place deep in their hearts where they want to build a sand castle in paradise and this event is the perfect opportunity for them to do that,” Miller said. “We’re helping people fulfill those dreams.”

Contestants, like in previous years, were given four hours to create a sand castles or sculptures on almost any subject. The sand art was later judged by Kauai artisans Kathy Cowen and Wayne Zebzda on several criterions, including artistic creativity, originality and complexity.  

Hanalei resident Mike Stewart, who was building a hammerhead shark in the sand with Warren Doi of Princeville and his sons Mason and Justin Stewart, said the competition’s time limit was the most difficult part of the contest.

“It’s just something fun to do and a great way to spend a Saturday with your kids,” Stewart said as he patched up a hole on the shark’s left side.

Other participants, like Princeville resident Jesse Odell and the 12 other members on his team, wanted to make a statement.

One of those team members, Los Angeles resident Steven Blum, said the group’s sand replica of a 1969 VW Volkswagen bus was created “to symbolize all protests and all causes everywhere.”

“This is the fusing of science and art into one statement,” Odell said. “It’s an iconic silhouette in American consciousness. More than any year, it represented a time of hope and positive energy, so we really wanted to harken back to that without looking in the past and only looking forward.”

But many of the participants and organizers, like Macias, agree that Saturday was simply reserved for a relaxing day at the beach.  

“What’s fun about it is that it brings locals together along with the tourists and part-timers so everybody can enjoy it,” Macias said. “It’s not like a surf, canoe or paddle board competition, where you have to be athletic or whatever — you can just come out here and have a good time. … It’s a family event and just brings people out, so it’s really great.”

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