By Hannah Wallace
“The neat thing about sand sculpting is, it appeals to everybody in the same way,” said Siesta-based master sand sculptor Brian Wiggelsworth. “Whether you’re 2 or 92, you’ve played in the sand.”
Wiggelsworth has made a business out of playing in the sand. The owner of the Sandventure Crew sand-sculpting company and the founder of Siesta’s famed Crystal Classic competition, Wiggelsworth began with the simple, universal impulse to build things on the beach.
In a normal year, Wiggelsworth and his team would ply their trade at corporate events and public festivals, creating 200-plus-ton sand sculptures outdoors, indoors or wherever they were asked. But last year COVID-19 hit and business dried up, so Wiggelsworth added a new service: private sand-sculpting classes for families.
“It really took off. They always seem to have a super time,” he said.
The classes have been good for business, but Wiggelsworth’s primary inspiration was simply to find a way to “stay in the sand,” he said. He’s been doing it his whole life.
Traveling with his family as a kid, Wiggelsworth built sand sculptures in California, Hawaii, and even Minnesota. When he moved to Sarasota, he immediately realized the Siesta Key Beach sand was something special. He began entering — and then dominating — amateur sand-sculpting competitions.
“People told me, ‘You’re too good, you have to move up,’” he said. “I didn’t know there was a ‘move up.’”
Eventually he was declared a master sand sculptor, an official title held by fewer than 300 people in the world. He travelled to competitions throughout the U.S. and in other countries, “but Siesta Key sand was better than anything else I was using,” he said. He realized he needed to start an event here that would showcase the local beaches’ famed quartz sand.
In November of 2010, the Siesta Key Crystal Classic Master Sand Sculpting Competition was born. Wiggelsworth invited master sculptors from all around the globe — Italy, Spain, Russia, Singapore, South Korea — to compete creating sand sculptures between eight and 10 feet tall. Wiggelsworth and his team would create a 250-ton sculpture as a centerpiece for the event.
After cancelling last year due to COVID-19, this year’s Crystal Classic will take place Nov. 12 to 15. Wiggelsworth has stepped down from running things; instead, he’ll be competing.
In the meantime, working with families brings the art form down to scale. The Sandventure Crew brings all the buckets, tools and shovels needed to meet their clients on the beach. During two-and-a-half hours, an expert sand sculptor teaches the family the basics of sand sculpting and guides them through the creation of their very own work of art.
Wiggelsworth teaches “two secrets to sand sculpting: water and compression,” he said. “You have to add as much water to the sand as possible. Water is our glue. Then compress it. We stomp it with our feet or use a tamper. Compression causes the water to stay in the sand longer.” Then they build a sandcastle together, with the clientele doing most of the work.
In the end, they will have created a sculpture that is “postcard worthy,” he said.
But does it bother him to put so much work into something that won’t last?
“Not at all,” he said. “We know it’s an ephemeral art form. We like to compare it to a Thanksgiving dinner: You work all day on it, and then everybody sits down and enjoys it. We’ve had sculptures we’ve built, and then kids destroy it immediately. For us, it’s just a chance to do it again.”
To inquire about the business, visit sandventurecrew.com or call (725) 500-7263.