Master Sand Sculptor Andy Hancock has honed his skill as a teacher of sand castles for many years, yet he hasn't had the opportunity to enter the competitions he desires.
On Sunday, at the 27th annual American Sand Sculpting Championships, Hancock was one of 16 professional sculptors to complete three days of crafting sand art and the last man standing when he was judged to be the best in the solo division with his sculpture called "Bringing Home for the Holidays." Last year, at this event, he was giving demonstrations on stage.
"I teach sand castle lessons every day of the year, and I've entered only four sand sculpting contests in 10 years." he said. "I never get to make the sand sculpture I want to make. This is the sand sculpture I wanted to make."
Australian-born Master Sand Sculptor Andy Hancock, who resides in South Padre Island, Texas and England, captured top solo division honors at the 27th annual American Sand Sculpting Championships with his sculpture named “Bringing Home for the Holidays” on the beachfront of Wyndham Garden Hotel Sunday.
The fun-loving and spirited Melbourne, Australia native carved a sea turtle with a sand castle on its back. His inspiration came from a cover of a book he saw some 25 years ago. That Terry Pratchett fantasy novel featured a sea turtle holding up four elephants that, in turn, were holding up the universe. Hancock asked himself 'why not a sand castle.'
"Sea turtles make the castles that you see on the beach first thing in the morning," he said. "They wait 100 years, then they bring you a sand castle. I like the idea of tiny, tiny sea turtles going to the bottom of the ocean then returning to make that art."
Hancock was followed on the winners' podium by Abe Waterman, who placed second with "The Heist"; Carl Jara, who took third with "Always Around for the Holidays"; and Jeff Strong, who was fourth with "Dash Away All." Waterman's piece captured the Sculptors' Choice.
Master Sculptors (Solo Division)
1. Andy Hancock "Bringing Home for the Holiday"
2. Abe Waterman - "The Heist"
3. Carl Jara - "Always Around for the Holidays"
4. Jeff Strong - "Dash Away All"
- Seahorses (family, groups) division
1. "Arch You Cute" - John & Karen Rademaker
2. "Castle of the Beach"
3. "Boston Strong"
- Dolphins (age 9-12) division
1. "Jumping Dolphins"
2. "Tower of Power"
3. "My Dog"
- Manatees (age 18 and older) division
1. "Bearded Man Face" - Julie Meyers
3. "Honey, I'm Home"
The 10-day festival continues through Sunday, Dec. 1. The event is being held on the south end of Fort Myers Beach at Wyndham Garden Hotel (formerly Holiday Inn). The largest sand sculpting event in the state of Florida is organized/managed by Wyndham Garden Hotel, Pinchers Crab Shack and The Sand Lovers in coordination with the Greater Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce.
"Let's give a big round of applause for the some 300 volunteers that made it possible for us to out here for 10 days," said Beach Chamber President Bud Nocera.
"It takes enormous teamwork to pull this off," added The Sand Lovers' Bill Knight. "We could not do this without a volunteer base."
Besides professional sculptures, the festival provides something for everyone. Festival goers can watch Quick Sand Speed Sculpting, Sand Sculpting Demonstrations and Lessons, Chainsaw Art with Rod Green and Canadian recording artist Nick Beauregard perform as well as compete in an amateur contest, check out activities in the Kids Area, create sand art in the Kids Zone and visit 50 vendors, including a photo opportunity area, in the Sand Vendor Village.
The amateur contest (winning sculptures in box) was held Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Next Sunday, the Advanced Amateur "Florida State Championships" will feature 10 competitors (most ever).
Anyone interested in viewing sculptures or engaging in some of the festival activities in the gated area can purchase day-pass tickets for $5 (adults and children 5 and older) or three-day passes for only $12. Children age 4 and under enter for free.
People's Choice -one can vote by placing money within the jugs near whichever sculpture you like best- will be announced this Sunday at the awards ceremony as well as the winners of the doubles division sculptures that will be built this week. Hancock is hoping his solo art captures the hearts of festival goers.
"The judges are .0001 percent of the people. When you win People's Choice, you are judged to be ahead of your peers and get the 99.9999 percent," he said. "Winning is great, but the People's Choice is just as important."