San Diego

Sandy Spectacle: US Sand Sculpting Challenge Returns to San Diego

The four-day event runs from Friday through Labor Day at Broadway Pier along downtown San Diego’s waterfront

With sand, buckets and a knack for detail, artists will descend on San Diego’s waterfront this Labor Day weekend for a sand sculpting competition known to leave spectators awestruck.

The 6th annual U.S. Sand Sculpting Challenge & Dimensional Art Exposition presented by the Port of San Diego goes down at Broadway Pier Friday through Sunday, showcasing elaborate works of art created entirely out of sand.

The competition brings world master class sand sculptors from around the world to San Diego to build and carve sand sculptures as the event unfolds.

“You get to see 10-foot-tall vertical images created in front of your eyes,” said Bruce Phillips, director of sand for the event, and a 25-year veteran sand sculpting artist. “There’s so much to see; it’s amazement, all the time. You’re stunned by what can be created out of sand.”

[G] 2015 U.S. Sand Sculpting Challenge

The family-friendly event also includes live entertainment, gourmet food trucks, a beer garden and a kid’s zone with a large zone with hands-on activities including sandcastle building classes taught by professional artists. In the past, the event has been named one of the top 20 must-see seaside festivals in the world by USA Today’s 10 Best.

On Monday, 300 tons of specialty sand was dumped on the pier for the event. Phillips said the sand is freshly quarried and perfect for this type of activity; it locks well with water to create sand that can be shaped, molded and sculpted into masterpieces.

The U.S. Sand Sculpting Challenge returns to San Diego this Labor Day weekend. NBC 7’s Vanessa Herrera shares details on the artistic, elaborate masterpieces visitors can expect to see.

The sand will be used by international sand artists vying for first place in the competition, including last year’s grand prize winner, Ilya Filimontsev, of Russia, and the 2012 grand prize winner, Rusty Croft, of Carmel, California. Eleven professional sculptors will compete solo, and seven teams of three will compete in the “Cool California Carver” contest.

Phillips won the People’s Choice category in 2013 with his “Swimming Hole” sand sculpture, which depicted kids playing in the water. Over the years, he said the world of sand art has evolved drastically, with artists pulling out all of the stops to create incredible imagery in a flash.

“It’s not just sand castles anymore,” he said.

Although the specialty sand used in this contest is a major ingredient for success, Phillips said novice sand artists can create sculptures on a regular beach, too, with water from the ocean and a few basic tools.

“You’ll need a tapered bucket that you can put wet sand into that will slide right off. You don’t want a bucket that will create suction,” he explained.

Phillips said simple household items can be used for cutting, carving, shaping and sculpting the sand, including spoons, ladles, butter knives and forks. Time and patience are also important factors.


In addition to taking in the sand sculptures against the backdrop of the bay, attendees can also peruse and buy more than 1,000 works of art – from metal, wood and glass to jewelry, handmade clothing and wall art – in the Dimensional Art Exposition portion of the event.

The U.S. Sand Sculpting Challenge runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Labor Day. Tickets range from $7 to $15 for adults and $5 to $10 for kids, depending on the day and whether you buy the tickets in advance or at the gate.

Since the waterfront gets crowded on the holiday weekend, visitors may want to take public transit to the event. The MTS trolley and bus, as well as the North County Coaster and Amtrak trains, drop passengers off at America Plaza/Santa Fe Depot, which is one block south and two blocks east of the pier.

For more details, visit the event website.

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