Sand sculptors, unite!

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Famous Crystal Classic festival set for Nov. 11-14 on Siesta Beach

By Hannah Wallace

The Siesta Key Crystal Classic International Sand Sculpting Festival is back again this month, Nov. 11 through 14. The annual event, which returned last year after a pandemic-related hiatus, showcases professional sand sculptors from around the world, working their magic on — and with — Siesta Key public beach’s own famous quartz sand.

“This year’s going to be even better,” said second-year organizer and professional sand sculptor Andy Daily.

Twenty-four total professional, international competitors (eight soloists and eight teams of two) will have three eight-hour days and one five-hour day to create their sculptures from more than 15 tons of sand piled in their allotted competition space. The 2022 professional contest will be judged by a panel of professors from Ringling College of Art and Design, with winners announced Sunday at 3 p.m. Daily hopes that the distinguished judges help to illustrate the artistic integrity of the event.

“Ringling is one of the most prestigious art schools in the United States,” he said. “Even though (sand sculpting) is temporary, these artists know that their work is being taken seriously.”

Andy Daily, director of the Siesta Key Crystal Classic International Sand Sculpting Festival, displays in the Village one of his creations as this year’s event nears. It’s Nov. 11-14 at Siesta Beach, 948 Beach Rd. For tickets, visit (submitted photo)

Sculptors might try crafting a piece similar to one they’ve produced at other competitions in the past — “It evolves,” explained Daily — or they might try something entirely new. Either way, the artists will be showing off their creativity as well as their technique, especially when it comes to constructing seemingly impossible designs.

“Emotion, depicting color with just sand through texture, big arches and overhangs,” said Crystal Classic founder Brian Wigelsworth, who returns this year to compete. “That’s our goal, just make the sand do what it’s not supposed to do.”

Depending on each artist’s personality (and how their day is going), visitors will have ample opportunities to interact and ask questions while the artists work. You might even have a chance to influence the final outcome.

“If I look around and see someone else has an amazing piece, it takes the pressure off,” said Daily, who participates in other competitions when he’s not running the Siesta Key event. “That frees me up to talk to people, to get the crowd’s reactions, and to get their opinions on what we should do next.”

In addition to the professional contest, this year’s Crystal Classic again features an amateur competition drawing competitors from around the country. And visitors can participate, too: Newbies of all ages will have two opportunities each day to take part in group lessons right there on the beach, free with admission.

The event’s sand centerpiece, created by Daily and his team and intended for photo ops with visitors, will be a massive castle. “Probably with dragons,” Daily added.

Last year’s Crystal Classic participants. (submitted photo)

Similar sand festivals and competitions this year have already proved popular, outdoor post-COVID-19 gatherings for competitors and onlookers alike. October 2022’s Sand Castle Days on South Padre Island, Texas, attracted an estimated 30,000 visitors — and featured Daily among the professional competitors.

Many professional artists jump from festival to festival “like they’re traveling with the circus,” said Daily. “That’s how we all know each other. This summer, we built seven sand sculptures in six different states.”

Wigelsworth and Daily are longtime partners with Siesta’s own Sandventure Crew, which creates sand sculptures around the country for corporate events, weddings, birthday parties and other occasions, in addition to offering private lessons. The company recently expanded to South Carolina, where Wigelsworth aims to establish events and semi-permanent sand-sculpting destinations in and around Hilton Head, Tybee Island and Myrtle Beach.

“Right now, sand sculpting is going crazy around the world,” said Wigelsworth. “It’s back.”

On the Tuesday after the competition, Crystal Classic organizers raze every sculpture. “It’s like a pop-up city,” said Daily. “We completely level the beach. It’s returned back to its natural, pristine condition like nothing ever happened.”

The demolition is in part a safety measure on behalf of animals and curious children. But it also serves to underscore the ethereal nature of the medium. While some onlookers marvel at the effort given to temporary sculptures, Daily sees sand sculpting as an art form that endlessly offers another chance, and is always inspiring anew.

“That’s what I love about sand still,” Daily added. “It’s a material that costs nothing, on a scale that’s just massive. It’s never-ending. And right when you think it can’t get any better, somebody does something that’s just defying gravity. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of sand.”


Festival facts
Friday, Nov. 11 through Monday, Nov. 14, Siesta Beach

Advance-purchase tickets (day-of price in parentheses):
• Adult: $10 ($12) per day
• Child: (Ages 5 – 17): $5 ($6) per day, must be accompanied by a paying adult
• Military Discount: $8 per day – Active and Retired Military Personnel (Identification required.)
• Senior Discount: (age 65 and up): $8 per day
• 4-Day Value Pass: $30 per adult (available in advance and online only) and $15 for children (ages 5 – 17 if accompanied by a paying adult.)
• Children under 5 are free, must be accompanied by a paying adult.
• 4-Day Value Pass ticket holders need to check in at the check-in kiosk to receive their wristband good for entry all four days of the event.
• Single-day ticket holders will receive a hand stamp for the day they purchased.

Reserved Parking Passes: $50 (online only; while supplies last)

Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 11, Nov. 13 and Nov. 14; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Nov. 12 (featuring lighted sculptures)

Amateur Sand Sculpting Competition: Nov. 12 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. (winners announced at 4 p.m.)

Quick Sand Competition: Nov. 11 12:30 and 4:30 p.m.; Nov. 12 12:30 and 4:30 p.m.; Nov. 13 12:30 and 4:30 p.m.

Sand sculpting demos and lessons: Nov. 11 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. ; Nov. 12 10:30 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Nov. 13 10:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.;

Awards ceremony: Nov. 13 at 3 p.m.

Music schedule:
• Nov. 11: Dirty Byrds 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.; Kettle of Fish 2 to 5 p.m.
• Nov. 12: John Patti Project 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.; Smudgekitten 2 to 5 p.m.; Fleetwood Max 6 to 8:30 p.m.
• Nov. 13: Chris Otto & the Melody Miners 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.; Tropical Ave 2 to 5 p.m.
• Nov. 14: Out of the Blue SRQ 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.; Bickley Rivera Steel Pan Band 2 to 5 p.m.


Hannah Wallace
Author: Hannah Wallace

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