Explore Key West

Catch Waves and Giant Sand Sculptures in Key West

There's no better way to spend Thanksgiving weekend and putting your toes in the sand and watching magic happen.

Your Thanksgiving holiday plans should include sand this year.

Casa Marina, a Waldorf-Astoria Resort in Key West, Florida, will play host to the second International Sand Art Competition on Nov. 25-29. Marianne van den Broek, the competition founder, started the solo, master-level competition last year with 15 years of sand-sculpting experience.

“I asked sculptors I respect and admire to come down to Key West and help me put together a great art show,” said Broek. “It didn’t take long afterwards when I received word that through the grapevine they declared it the best sand-sculpting competition in the U.S.”

Six master sculptors will hail from Mexico, the Netherlands, Canada and the U.S. to shape larger-than-life sculptures from wet sand. Some will return from the previous year’s competition to sculpt the giant works of art.

"Growing up in the Midwest, ocean beaches were something very exotic to me," said Dan Belcher, a sand sculptor from St. Louis who will participate. "When I was in college and had the oppourtunity to first see a professional sand sculpture, it literally changed my life. I knew that someone, someday, someway, this was something I would pursue."

To sculpt the sand, contestants are provided a roped-off area with a few hundred pounds of sand. You can sit on the balcony of Casa Marina and watch the creators heft their sand into giant, amorphous forms. The sand is then hosed down in the forms.

Once the sand is compact, wet canvas—if you will—the artisans unpack the sand and begin sculpting. There are as many potential designs with sand as there are on canvas, as well.

“Every sculptor has their own strengths and weaknesses and the goal is to always improve on your work and get better every time,” said Broek.

There are no placement ribbons for best works, according to Broek. During the competition, visitors can vote for a Peoples’ Choice Award for the best design. There is a sculptors' award, in which all contestants judge their competitors’ work. Local government and art agencies also get to take part in the action, awarding a Conch Republic award to the sculptor whose work most embodies Key West.

"For me its very interesting that the sculptures are temporary, this makes them somehow more special, there is only a small window of time when they exist," said Susanne Ruseler, a first-year participant from Utrecht in the Netherlands in this year's competition. "The direct contact with the public is wonderful, you learn from people's reactions. And of course it's a great oppourtunity to travel for your work and work with amazing, creative people all over the world."

Slideshow: Sand Art Created by 2014-2015 Competitors