Shifting Sands : Corona del Mar Competition Puts Castle Sculpting in the Hands of Architects

<i> Corinne Flocken is a free-lance writer who regularly covers Kid Stuff for The Times Orange County Edition. </i>

The august members of the Orange County chapter of the American Institute of Architects are out to boost their image. And if it takes crawling around in the sand to do it, well, all the better.

On Sunday, Sept. 30, local architects, landscape architects and affiliated professionals will scoop, shape and otherwise manipulate the sands of Corona del Mar State Beach in the second annual AIA/Orange County Invitational Sandcastle Competition. Spectators can watch the pros at work from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., then cast their ballots for their favorite entry. An awards ceremony will follow at 4 p.m.

Twenty-five teams are scheduled to compete, according to event spokeswoman Loralyn Reif, who called the contest “the last, and hopefully the best, of the three major sandcastle competitions” in the county. (The United Way and Newport Seafest sponsored large contests earlier this month.)

“These are professionals in design creating absolutely spectacular sand sculptures and castles,” Reif said. “The end results are amazing; it almost becomes a mini-Disneyland.”


“One of the main goals of the chapter is to increase architectural awareness in Orange County, and we feel this event is a fun way to do just that,” she continued, adding that more than 2,000 spectators attended last year’s event.

Competitors will be working in two major categories, sand sculptures and sandcastles, said Reif, who expects this year’s entries to be evenly split between the two.

“Sand sculptures tend to be more free form,” she explained, “ranging anywhere from an alligator to a palm tree. For example, last year’s grand prize winner, Joseph Woollett & Associates, interpreted classical Greek ruins. Another team created this big foot about to step on a figure of a man, and called it ‘Under Pressure.’ ” A sandcastle takes a more traditional form and is generally outfitted with moats, turrets and drawbridges, she said.

A panel of judges, including Tony DeLap, a sculptor and UCI instructor; Cathy Curtis, a Times staff writer who covers art for the Orange County edition, and David Smith of Newport’s World Famous Architects, will award three prizes in each division, as well as an overall Grand Prize. Judges will focus on originality of design, best use of site, degree of difficulty and detail, and execution. Onlookers can cast their ballots for a special People’s Choice award.


The decisions won’t be easy. When they’re not shaping office towers and elegant homes, many of these professionals work as master sand sculptors, competing in sandcastle contests around the globe, including the prestigious U.S. Open Sandcastle Competition, held for the past 12 years at Imperial Beach in San Diego. Typical of these are the husband-and-wife team of Gregory and Leslie Lebon, who recently created a 35-foot-high “city of the future,” complete with eight-foot bridges and a walk-through viewer’s path, for the Sand Craft Festival in Kamaishi, Japan.

“To the architects, it’s a matter of pride” in their craft, said Reiff. “But sand sculpting is one of those things that can start out as a hobby, and before you know it, you’re addicted to it.”


The 1990 AIA/Orange County Invitational Sandcastle Competition.


Sunday, Sept. 30. Building takes place between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., awards ceremony at 4 p.m.


Corona del Mar State Beach.



From Coast Highway, go west on Marguerite Avenue. Turn right at the end of the street to the parking lot entrance.


Admission is free; parking is $4.

Where to call

(714) 557-7796.