CORONA DEL MAR — There were mermaids reading books, a whale, a pyramid — even a crime scene where a sand kid who smashed a sand castle was being pursued by a sand detective — that were all part of the Corona del Mar Sandcastle Contest at Big Corona beach on Sunday.
"That's funny," said Mark Philipp of Aliso Viejo as he surveyed the "Castle Smashing Investigation" sculpture.
"It's amazing," his wife, Beth Philipp, said. "I just am amazed at all the creativity. There's a lot of hard work."
The teams set up before lunch in their assigned plots, using buckets to tote seawater to create slurries of sand. They worked from drawings and plans, forming their creations and then using brushes and other tools to get the details just right.
"They said, 'Make scales,' and the next thing you know, you're a professional scaler," said Danny Sullivan, who worked on the mermaids that formed the logo for the Newport-Mesa ProLiteracy entry.
"No one on our team has ever done this before," Lorna Harris said. "We learned a lot of things about slurry and spraying. We were nervous."
The heat dried out two of the taller entries, which collapsed before the winners were announced. Another entry fell victim to a toddler who escaped his mother's grasp and started to knock a corner of it down.
"Boys are boys," said Mark Borgeson, a member of the South Coast Educational Prima Donnas. "That's the entire point of sand castles, is to destroy them. They all want to do it."
His team created the CSI/Castle Smasher entry based on that desire to knock down castles. The team, entering the contest for the 26th time, won first place for its entry.
The hardest part of creating a winning entry, they said, was lugging water and digging sand, and then keeping the sand wet enough, but not too wet.
Newport Beach Mayor Mike Henn and City Councilman Rush Hill helped judge the entries. In all, 24 teams entered, including Girl Scouts, families and "master" teams with lots of experience. The Commodores Club of the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce sponsored the event.
Ryan and Adam Roth of Mission Viejo created a birthday cake sculpture to mark the contest's 50th anniversary.
"It's a great family event," said Sheela Roth, their mother. "We'll do it every year. It's fun, an amazing event to be part of."