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Not Just Sandcastles

Each year, artists gather at Texas SandFest to create amazing sculptures out of sand and water.

The words Texas SandFest 2024 carved into sand and an artist sculpting a man’s face in sand.
Courtesy of Port Aransas Tourism Bureau & Chamber of Commerce

Every April, sculptors gather in Port Aransas, Texas, for a contest that attracts onlookers from around the world. The contest takes place on the town’s wide, sandy beach. A beach might sound like a weird place to show off artistic masterpieces, but it makes perfect sense when those masterpieces are made of sand!

Texas SandFest is the largest beach sand-sculpting contest in the United States. Tens of thousands of people travel to the Port Aransas beach to watch professional sand sculptors do their thing. Sculptors are allowed to create whatever they want, which sounds easy enough. But anyone who has tried to make a sandcastle knows that shaping objects out of sand isn’t so simple.

This year’s sculptors arrived on the beach on April 18, one day before SandFest officially began, and set up wood bases that would support their giant sculptures. Each sculptor gathered about 20,000 pounds (9,070 kilograms) of wet sand, set it around the base, and started sculpting. The sculptors had about two and a half more days to finish their work. In addition to the wooden base, the sculptors were allowed to use biodegradable glue to hold the sand in place so it wouldn’t blow away.

Each sculptor had their own way of working. Some made detailed plans before they even touched the sand. Others had a general idea but started sculpting before they were sure what they’d end up with.

This year’s winning sculpture was called “Sweet Dreams Are Made of These,” by Abe Waterman of Canada. It was of a young woman dreaming about a vampire, who appears behind her. Waterman took home a $2,000 prize.

Like most sand sculptures, the ones at SandFest didn’t last long. After the contest, a bulldozer knocked them down so the beach would be ready for summer fun.

Check out the slideshow for more pictures from SandFest!

Courtesy of Port Aransas Tourism Bureau & Chamber of Commerce
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Fun Fact

The world’s tallest sandcastle was built in 2021 in Denmark by Wilfred Stijger and a team of 30 sand sculptors. It was 69 feet, 4 inches (21.16 meters) high—about the height of a five-story building.

A large sandcastle with many turrets and an image of Cupids and people on bicycles.
© Claus Bjoern Larsen—Ritzau Scanpix/AFP/Getty Images

Why Is Wet Sand Sticky?

A surfer asks another beachgoer how he built a large sandcastle and the beachgoes says it’s chemistry.
© Pavlo Plakhotia, 7vect0r, Onyxprj/Dreamstime.com; Composite illustration Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Imagine you’re building a sandcastle. You fill a pail with sand, dump it out, and…whoops. You were hoping to make a tower, but instead, you ended up with a big pile of sand. What did you do wrong? You used dry sand. Only wet sand will stick together, allowing your tower to form and remain in place. Why does wet sand stick while dry sand doesn’t? Let’s find out.

Wet sand has two basic ingredients. There’s sand, and there’s water. Both are made up of tiny particles called molecules. Water molecules are attracted to one another. So when water is added to sand, the water molecules stick to each other, forming little bridges that join the grains of sand together and make them seem sticky! This is called surface tension. Without it, it would be impossible to build a sandcastle.

What Is Sand, Anyway?

White, black, red, and multicolored sand at beaches.
© Alexander Demyanenko, Millafedotova, InesPorada, Pathquery/Dreamstime.com; Photo composite Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.
Not all sand looks the same!
What is sand made of, and where does it come from? Why are so many beaches sandy? You can learn more about sand at Britannica!
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Word of the Day

chisel

Part of speech:

noun

Definition:
: a metal tool with a flat, sharp end that is used to cut and shape a solid material (such as stone, wood, or metal)
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