Sand sculptors to shape masterpieces at annual Hampton Beach competition

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It is not often sand takes center stage at any venue nor would one logically expect its use to elicit amazement, which is what makes the Master Sand Sculpting Competition in Hampton Beach such a draw.

Held in June every year since 2001, the multi-day event attracts tons of visitors and some of the best sand sculptors in the world, including nine-time world champion and last year’s winner Carl Jara.

For Jara, who works as an exhibit fabricator for the Cleveland Museum of Natural History when not carving sand around the world — 11 countries at last count — the competition at Hampton Beach is like no other. It is not the large crowd of onlookers or the fact the event serves as a qualifier for the world championships that keeps him coming back, either, but, in part, the sand, itself.

“It’s fantastic sand. I love this sand,” said Jara, who has competed all 14 years of the sand-sculpting competition. “It’s one of the most amazing sands in the world. It does everything a sand sculptor would expect. It’s strong, smooth, delicate ... The better the sand, the better we can do.”

According to Lisa Martineau, who has served as a judge in previous years, Jara’s enthusiasm is not misplaced.

“It’s from a local quarry, and there’s a flatness to it, so when it’s mixed with water it holds its form better,” she said.

In total, 250 tons of sand will be dropped at Hampton Beach, with each of the 10 sculptors allotted 10 tons a piece. Regarding the other 150 tons, she noted the sculptors initially will work together to create a sponsor site that will reflect this year’s theme, “Find Your Summer at Hampton Beach.”

As for how individual sculptures are evaluated by the judges, Martineau cited several criteria, including technical skill, height, symmetry and balance, and whether the piece conforms to the selected theme.

“Wow factor is important, too,” said Martineau, who said that is what distinguished Jara’s efforts last year with the sculpture “Infinity,” which depicted a series of five human figures, four of which are seemingly cradled in the palm of another, and each one smaller than the last. “As beautiful as the other sculptures were, they couldn’t compete with that.”

In addition to the allure of the sand, Jara said the other reason he keeps returning to Hampton Beach is its people. “I just love that town,” he said. “The people I’ve met through the years have become my family. I sleep in the same bed every year with the same neighbors next door. They may not be my family genetically, but they’re family.”

For Bob Preston of Preston Real Estate, which has helped sponsor the event since its inception, Jara’s reaction to the town exemplifies what he hopes others experience, too.

“(The competition) helps create memories, and that’s why people come to the beach,” he said.

From a business point of view, he said the event also helps bring people with varying lodging intentions, which benefits everyone in the industry. “We’re all in the same leaking boat and we all need to do well,” he added. “If we keep working together, we can continue to bring in these people and show them Hampton Beach at its best.”

Hampton Beach Village District Commissioner Chairman Chuck Rage agrees and said the event helps open Hampton Beach up to first-time visitors as well as those who have not returned in some time.

“They can see how far we have come with all the improvements,” said Rage, who also owns Pelham Resort Hotel and Rexall Drug Store.

As for its merit as a spectacle, Preston said the sand sculpting competition provides onlookers with a great view of the sculptors as they work, since the beach is roughly four or five feet below the spectators.

“I love the interaction with the crowd,” Jara said. “Some people watch us work all day long, so there’s a lot of emotion expressed ... Ninety percent of the experience is creating it, not the finished piece.

“This is just the coolest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” the sand sculptor said.

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