Sandcastles Rise Near San Diego Skyline; Effort Continues to Bring Back IB Competition



Published Aug. 29, 2012 by Imperial Beach Patch.

Bringing the beach downtown, the U.S. Sand Sculpting Challenge has moved more than 250 tons of sand to the Broadway Pier in San Diego.

Teams and individuals from Imperial Beach, San Diego, Washington, Ireland, the Netherlands and Italy will compete in the event’s Masters category this Labor Day weekend.

About a dozen teams or individuals, including Imperial Beach’s Sand Squirrels, will also compete in another category.

In its first year, the U.S. Sand Sculpting Challenge begins in the absence of Imperial Beach’s U.S. Open Sandcastle Competition, canceled by local organizers in fall 2011.

First held in 1980, the event at its height drew an estimated 400,000 to Imperial Beach. Over time, it became the largest contest of its kind in the world.

“I’ve met a bunch of people from IB, and they love the contest, and they love playing in the sand,” said Kent Trollen, a professional sand sculptor who organizes and judges competitions.

“They’re just disappointed their event didn’t continue. In the meantime, we’ll get this event going. There’s room in this town for both.”

In one of the San Diego event’s three competitions, Archisand and I.B. Posse will compete in the IB Challenge, which Trollen said was named to honor IB’s legacy.

The IB Challenge will be decided by popular vote.

Competition between the two teams has become a tradition that started in IB and will continue in San Diego.

Year after year, the two traded first place honors over the past decade, creating some of the most extraordinary sculptures at IB competitions.

Trollen met many of the individuals who will compete this weekend while judging the World Championship of Sand Sculpting last year in Siesta Key, FL.

Shortly after the U.S. Open fell apart, while he was in Florida last November, Trollen said he was contacted by Greg LeBon of Archisand and Gordon Summer, who helped raise funds for the U.S. Open, to create the U.S. Sand Sculpting Challenge.

“We were trying to work with them to keep it going, but once we saw the budget for security and everything we thought ‘Wow, that’s a lot of money,” Trollen said. “I don’t know how they did it.”

The last competition held in IB cost more than $200,000, $90,000 for security provided by San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, an amount Trollen said he has never paid after organizing more than 20 competitions.

Trollen said Sand Sculpting Challenge organizers tried but were unable to buy the name and website of the U.S. Open Sandcastle Competition.

“It’s a business thing,’’ he said. “We’re running a business here. Down there, it was an all-volunteer thing and just kind of a different approach.

“We fly people in from all over the world. It’s just a whole different ballgame.”

Though similarities exist, here are notable differences between the two:

  • Unlike the U.S. Open Sandcastle Competition, U.S. Sand Sculpting Challenge spectators are charged admission.
  • Teams will be paid by organizers to compete instead of paying to participate as was the custom in Imperial Beach.
  • Instead of being held on the beach in IB, tons of sand will be imported to Broadway Pier in downtown San Diego.
  • Instead of two days of competitions for kids and adults, sculpted sandcastles will be on-display for four days.
  • Instead of more than 100 vendors lining Seacoast Drive, artists will showcase their sculptures at the U.S. Sand Sculpting Challenge.
  • Instead of a day devoted to competing kids sandcastles, this weekend’s event will have an area where children can make their own creations.

Like the U.S. Open in IB, the U.S. Sand Sculpting Challenge will donate part of its proceeds to charities that benefit children.

Efforts to bring a sandcastle competition back to Imperial Beach continue.

Julia Simms of CHE Marketing, formerly the city’s public relations provider, continues efforts to organize a competition in 2013, possibly under the banner of the once prominent annual .

The first Sun and Sea Festival was held in IB in 1960, and at one point was combined with the U.S. Open Sandcastle Competition.

Instead of more than 100 vendors on Palm Avenue, the festival may include a parade. Instead of 400,000 people, organizers want to keep attendance near 40,000.

A meeting will take place next week with city officials to discuss logistics, she said.

Corporate sponsors may fund the event, Simms said.

“Not that we would turn anyone down; that just means people should hang on to their checkbooks for now,” she said.

Those interested in volunteering may contact Deric Fernandez at or call 619-400-9037.

Trollen offered to lend a hand to help revive an IB competition.

“We’re still willing to go down and help try to resurrect it if they choose to do so,” Trollen said. “We’re not going to run it for them, but we’re there for them.”

Leonard Gonzalez, captain of I.B. Posse, said he wants to see sandcastles in IB again and was part of a group Simms brought together earlier this year to discuss a future competition.

Gonzalez thinks an annual competition in downtown San Diego could limit the size of any future Imperial Beach competition, but IB could still be a big draw if it’s still free.

“I would really like to keep the sprit alive and keep something going in IB regardless of how successful this San Diego event becomes,” he said.

“IB’s the original San Diego sand sculptor competition, and we need to do what we can to keep it in our community,” said I.B. Posse’s Gonzalez.

Keeping a competition in IB won’t be easy. It may take “a very eager community member or group” or involvement from city leadership, he said.

“Without one of those two things happening, I don’t see it coming back because there’s just so much work involved.”

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