Dig this: Isle of Palms hosts annual Piccolo Festival sand sculpture competition

Josh Embler, 28, shoveling sand onto the sand castle "On Stranger Tides" in the high noon heat. File photo

Isle of Palms will host the annual Piccolo Spoleto sand-sculpting contest at Front Beach on June 2. Here's the info you'll need to join into the fun.

Beginning at 9 a.m. on June 2, teams of four compete in three age categories: children, young adults and adults. At 11 a.m., noon, and 1 p.m., prizes are awarded to the first-, second- and third-place contestants in seven different categories. This year's prizes include T-shirts, dinner certificates and bicycles.The first 200 competitors to sign up receive a free T-shirt. To register for the event, visit Isle of Palms website, www.iop.net, or call 886-8294.

Participants use buckets, shovels and temporary supports to create sand art ranging from simple castles to elaborate sculptures. The rules stipulate that only sand and water may be used to construct sand sculptures, although minor decorations are allowed as long as they are biodegradable.

In the past, some have used materials such as shells and seaweed to accentuate their work. Food coloring also is commonly used, as it was in last year's Best of Show winner — a replica of Leonardo DaVinci's Mona Lisa built by Sharon Craig, Janet Jackson and Greg Jackson.

Greg Tindal, event coordinator, said past participants have represented a range of abilities. “There are some people who come out and they want it to be a very serious event,” Tindal said. “For the majority, they are out here just to have fun.”

Tindal, who competed in the event prior to becoming the coordinator, recommends using plenty of water, including bringing a spray bottle to dampen built portions to prevent crumbling structures.

He also suggests creating a large pile of wet sand prior to beginning construction rather than the more time-consuming process of retrieving water from the ocean throughout the building process. “It's back-breaking work to pile up the sand but it's worth it in the long run.”

Jack Tracey, last year's adult Best in Show winner, has competed in the event almost every year since its inception and will be defending his title this year, added his own bit of advice to prevent crumbling. “Don't crunch the sand down because that will come back to bite you later,” said Tracey. “Soak it really well but when you pack it down don't bang on it.”

Although officials had feared severe erosion when Hurricane Irene approached Charleston's shores last August, most area beaches, including Front Beach, remained unscathed.

While Isle of Palms has suffered erosion issues in the past, especially in areas with dense residential development, recent sand renourishment projects have won acclaim from the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association.

Elsewhere, beaches are experiencing record attendance, due in part to this year's warm weather. Ken Merkel, vice president of the Folly Beach Business Association, said business at Folly Beach is booming in concert with all-time high beach attendance. “All of our stores and restaurants here on Folly Beach have had really, really strong attendance and business is definitely up,” said Merkel.

The wide scope of awards provides incentive for sculptors to use their imaginations, resulting in creations that range from wonderful to weird.

Last year's Most Creative winner, “Biccolo Spoleto Razor” was a T-shaped razor and a collection of sand towers representing stubble.

“On Stranger Tides,” a collection of “drip towers” featuring arches and buttresses, won Best Architectural.

Other prior creations have included a cannon from Charleston's Battery Park, a life-sized pool table, and a crab escaping the BP oil spill. The ability to win prizes in categories that require creative thinking rather than skill encourages first-timers to participate.

Sarah DeSantis is a Newhouse School graduate student.