Jaw-dropping spectacle was ultimate Siesta showcase

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By Jane Bartnett

Oh what a night! And oh, what a weekend it was for Siesta Beach. The Crystal Classic was on!

Thousands of visitors had come to see the exceptional sand sculptures designed and created by 24 of the world’s master sand sculptors who traveled here from all over the U.S. and Canada, and from as far away as the Netherlands, Italy, Japan, Lithuania, Latvia, and Ukraine. I’d been looking forward to getting to the beach to see what this year’s artists had accomplished.
Wow, was it worth the wait!
When my friend Lisa and I arrived on Saturday in the late afternoon, there was music in the air and a lot of smiling faces. I’ve never seen so many people on Siesta Beach. It was the perfect evening. The sand was soft, the temperature was just right, and as the sun started to set the beach took on a golden glow. Magic.
As we entered the gate for the event, a large welcome sculpture of a smiling Scooter of the Beach, Siesta Key’s most famous lifeguard, greeted us. I learned that several other large sculptures that appeared at the festival were the result of what is called a “community carve” — that’s when all the sculptors got into the act. Talk about teamwork. Impressive is too small a word to describe how amazing they all were.
Yes, these artists created these gigantic designs together and then got to work on their own projects.
One amazing sculpture after another seemed to magically appear in the sand. People stopped to gaze and some seemed to be totally awestruck. These sculptures have that effect on you!
Lots of kids were perched on their dad’s shoulders and enjoying a bird’s-eye view of the spectacular display of art, humor and wonder. Sounds of laugher and oohs and ahhs everywhere could be heard as people stopped to stare at the amazing designs and the sheer size of many of the sand sculptures.
I was amazed at not only the expertise and craftsmanship that goes into creating these spectacular pieces of art but also the cleverness and humor. A large work called “Birds of a Feather Flock Together” showed an eagle with sharp talons and a wise old owl looking on.
There were castles in the air and a sweet tribute to a smiling Jimmy Buffett, the ultimate beach boy, complete with parrots and a guitar. In my mind, I could hear him singing about his beloved Margaritaville.

One of my favorites was a magnificent creation called “A Change of Season” from the Canadian team of Dan Belcher and Karen Fralich. Both have won so many world championship titles that it’s hard to count and she is the only woman to win the Solo Canadian World Championship. Their design, as I interpreted it, in my self-made title as sand-sculptor-critic-at large, was a tribute to their Canadian roots. It depicted Old Man Winter and the fall season. Fall is shown in the form of a fair goddess, wearing Canadian maple leaves and acorns as a crown on her head. She appears to be drifting off to sleep as the cold winds of winter drifts by.
Simply beautiful.
We wandered over to the Barefoot Beach Bar Party Tent and caught a few tunes as the From the Edge Band played to a full house. The bar was doing a brisk business and after grabbing a beer, beach-goers danced and sang along.
It was one of those late afternoons that makes you think that life doesn’t get much better than this. I don’t think anyone on the beach would disagree.
At the sand-sculpting lessons area, families with young kids were having a great time. There was some real talent there. I bet we’ll be seeing some of these budding young artists at a future Crystal Classic in the years ahead.
Next door to the lessons were sculptures that had been created earlier in the day during the amateur sand sculpting completion. It’s amazing to see how much talent there is out there in the world.
“Take my picture with Cookie Monster” said one little girl to her mother, when she spotted a small sculpture of the Muppet character munching on a cookie with his cookie jar close by.
Several small and intricate castles were on display as was a sea turtle that appeared to be emerging from the water. And to think, these were created by amateurs.
I wonder how many sandcastle photos made their way to “the cloud” during those four days? No doubt, Siesta Beach is probably now even more famous than ever before.
Since I’m a recent transplant to Sarasota, I’ve only visited the Crystal Classic for the last few years. Last year, the Key was still recovering from Hurricane Ida and dealing with Hurricane Nicole. It was amazing that the festival went on at all, yet it did.
This year was a real turning point. If anyone has any doubt, Siesta Key and this beautiful beach are back. The Siesta Key Crystal Classic International Sand Sculpting Festival, as it’s formally known, is one of the crowning achievements of the year.
I can’t wait to see what’s in store for 2024!

Jane Bartnett
Author: Jane Bartnett

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