Summer’s over in much of the States — hello rain and cold. But it’s still high season on Bermuda, an island just a short flight off the east coast of the United States.
The sand sculpture competition is an annual thing on Bermuda. The island is known for its beaches of ultra-fine sand. This year’s event was the 20th edition — and it was a humdinger.
The sculptures take shape on Horseshoe Bay, on the southern side of the island. It’s where you go if you don’t want to go anywhere. You are quite happy being there thank you very much.
First thing in the morning, organizers led by Jamal Hart create the plots — big piles of sand marked by 10 by 10 squares of string. Hart works for Bermuda’s department of youth, sport, and recreation. "They’re competing for a purse prize of $2,000, split amongst four different categories," he says: children, teenagers, tourists and an open category that includes companies and organizations.
Hart says what the judges are looking for is "creativity, originality, full use of the lot, and detail. If you say you’re going to build a mermaid and it looks more like a dinosaur, those things could go against you."
Participants get seven hours to build something special. Hart has seen some quality work in his time, from hibiscus plants to grand prix cars, all conjured from sand.
"The reigning champion produced one call A Whale of Time," remembers. "That was very awesome. It was a sperm whale fighting with a humpback whale."
The champion was back for this year’s contest — her name is Hannah Emmerson Strang. Born and bred in Bermuda, she knows a great deal about sculpting sand. Hannah begins by dumping buckets of water onto the plot, packing the sand until it sounds just so. "A solid thwack," she says, "that’s how you know your sand is hard-packed and is safe to carve."
To carve the sand, Hannah brings a cornucopia of tools: "In my bag of tricks is a spray bottle to wet down your detail; an artist’s palette knife because of the sharp edge; a chopstick sharpened at one end; and a straw to blow out the detail work."
After hours of work, the sculptures are complete — around 20 in total. There’s a ship being consumed by a terrifying sea python. There’s a memorial to Trayvon Martin. Hannah's effort, built with a sculpting partner, is a tribute to Cecil the Lion. And further up the beach, two local kids, Monty and Elsie, are showing off their literary effort — a sculpture that evokes Where The Wild Things Are.
The kids are crowned the winners of their category. With their winnings, Monty vows that they're going "to go on a boat for four hours, and we’re also going to get ice cream."
No surprises in the overall category — Hannah Emmerson Strang wins again. But no one begrudges her another victory. She teaches sand sculpture on Bermuda; many of her competitors are also her students.
As the event concludes, she exclaims: "I’m so proud!"