Man About Town: The sand castle sorcerer’s apprentice


Like Charlie Sheen, I have no explanation for the things I do lately, other than they are on a whim and keep you guessing.

Last week, I Dark Knighted across Newport Harbor with the equivalent of a Jet Ski on my back. Eventually I splashed down in a puddle of my own juices.

Well done.

This week, I am back at my Walden Pond (the Pacific Ocean), building sand castles with one of the best in the business, Greg LeBon, who has collected all sorts of awards that you didn’t even know existed.


Let’s just say that what Michelangelo was to marble, LeBon is to sand.

“This is the one area a ma-and-pa operation doesn’t know about,” he says of using the right sand at sufficient dampness. “The quintessential secret to holding it together.”

For 30 years he has been at this. His favorite tools are rounded at the corners from the decades of swirls, cuts, cornices.

So is LeBon. Nice guy with that full-moon face. Talented. Relentlessly busy. Most of all, patient with kids like me.

“Read the sand,” he tells me as I head to the surf line with an empty bucket.

“OK,” I say.

Hmmmm, this sand has no verbs.

By the way, my doctor (Frankenbaum) just returned from a long stint in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from some sort of State Department tour of duty. Guess Glendale just isn’t exciting enough for some people.

No, I don’t get it either, but Frankenbaum emails to ask about having lunch. He suspects, I’m sure, that a guy who skitters across Newport Harbor in a jet pack isn’t long for this world. In me, he senses a gold mine of failing organs.

By the way, the amazing thing about my jet pack adventure was that I didn’t wind up lost in the Pacific, swallowed by my own Walden Pond. Talk about nice use of irony.


“Writer Disappears; Loss of $100,000 Jet Pack Mourned,” the headline would read. “ ‘What Kind of Adventurer Is Afraid of Heights?’ Widow Asks.”

Anyway, I am glad to be back on mostly dry land. LeBon and I are hanging out at the Montage in Laguna Beach. If heaven has a hotel, the Montage is it.

When I pull up in our vintage family wagon, the Honey Fitz, they assume I’m here to repair the plumbing.

I tell them, no, I am actually here to meet LeBon, who is on assignment to build sea creatures to entertain guests. An architect during the week, LeBon has this side business building elaborate sand sculptures, such as the Staples tribute to the Kings during their Stanley Cup run.

How do you build a sand sculpture the size of an SUV?

It all starts with a solid foundation. We build it in layers, 3 inches at a time, soak each tier in seawater, then pummel it down, then add more sand. Twenty minutes at a time, I seem to be getting nowhere.

This day, LeBon is building a sea horse and a crab. He uses a casting tube to build up the sea horse. Water. Sand. Water. Sand.

When we get to the actual sculpting, LeBon makes it look easy. I make it look impossible. Working top to bottom, he knows how to artfully angle his cuts, to let the midday sun create shadows for ultimate effect.

His son, Alex, does some scroll work using a garden mister, sculpting knife and 2 feet of surgical tubing that he blows through to clear the cavities he’s cutting.

I build the eyes of the crab, which look more like those of a bullfrog — or Charlie Sheen at a network meeting.

LeBon follows, salvaging my sea creature with a few deft cuts — a crabendectomy.

The Mission Viejo resident holds workshops on sand castles, and he enlists volunteers for big projects (check schedule at

There’s hardly an event he hasn’t worked: anniversaries, birthdays, marathons. He’s even been hired to craft elaborate wedding proposals.

“You should see the reactions,” he says proudly.

What I’d really like to see — romance-wise — is a re-creation of the Ice Bowl, Bart Starr going over Jerry Kramer. Or George Frazier pounding on Muhammad Ali. Or Jackie Robinson stealing home.

Or Deborah Kerr tackling Burt Lancaster in that epic surf scene.

Wait, was that a sport? I don’t even think they were wearing cleats.