Amateur sandsculptors preparing for annual Siesta event

Some come with detailed plans sketched out.

Brian Wigelsworth works on his winning pirate sculpture during the 2007 contest. Photos by Robert Ross

Some come with detailed designs in their minds.

The youngest ones come with pails and shovels and giggles and glee.

For the 40th time, on May 5, people of all ages will descend upon Siesta Key Public Beach to mold and shape that almost pure quartz sand into chimerical creations and whimsical commentaries on life. They will be entrants in the Sand Sculpture Contest.

Jonathan Poyner, beach event coordinator for the Sarasota County Parks and Recreation Department, is reminding everyone that the free event begins with registration at 8:30 a.m. The competition formally kicks off at 9 a.m., with cash prizes awarded at 2 p.m.

“We started out doing it in October, because it was a slow time,” said Anne Johnson, the long-time editor of the Pelican Press.

The Pelican’s original owner, John Davidson, and county staff collaborated on the competition to draw people to Siesta Key.

“Then, at one point,” Johnson said, “John decided it needed to be in May,” another traditionally slow time of the year.

Siesta actually saw two events in a short space of months, Johnson pointed out, as the date switch became official.

In the early days of the competition, Johnson said, the event featured more categories than the four planned for this spring. Among those long-gone categories was one for political and historical sculptures.

Her favorite entry of all in that category, Johnson said, was one created by Siesta Key residents Toni and John Lewis. It was a commentary on the Sarasota County Commission’s failure to get Midnight Pass reopened in the 1980s.

The sculpture, Johnson said, featured five heads buried in the sand, with five rear ends up in the air.

Over the years, the amateur event has helped future master sandsculptors, such as Siesta Key resident Brian Wigelsworth, shape their careers — literally.

Wigelsworth said he started competing in the Siesta event about 10 years ago, winning the top prize three years in a row.

Twice, he added, he won in two different categories.

“We had a blast,” he said, noting that he always came with a crowd.

After he had scored so many wins, he explained, “somebody came up to me and said, ‘You’ve got to move up.’”

He did — to the state competition in Fort Myers Beach, where he took first place.

The next year, Wigelsworth said, he was invited back to the Fort Myers Beach competition as a master. “That’s actually how you become a master,” he said: by invitation.

'American Idle' by Libby Bennett and Lara Hines won three awards in 2008

Libby Bennett and her partner, Lara Hines, also moved up from amateur status in the Siesta Key event to the level of masters.

“I started going (to the Siesta competition) with my kids when they were young,” Bennett said. “It’s just a very family-friendly, fun event.”

That was about 10 years ago, she said.

“Everyone can enter, and that’s what’s so great about it.”

If you want to participate

The 40th Annual Sand Sculpture Contest will begin at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, May 5, south of the pavilion on Siesta Key Public Beach.

The Sarasota County Parks and Recreation Department staff will have a registration tent set up and places staked out for the sculptors to work.

Judging will begin at 1 p.m.; cash prizes will be awarded at 2 p.m.

The event is free. All ages are welcome.

The categories for sculptures are Adult Humorous, Adult Miscellaneous, Children Ages 10 and Younger and Youth Ages 11-18. Only natural materials may be used.

The event is co-sponsored by the parks and recreation department, the Siesta Key Merchants Association, the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce and the Pelican Press.