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SandSculptors return for Worlds qualifier on Fort Myers Beach

By Staff | Oct 26, 2010

Melbourne's Thomas Koet not only won the 2009 American Sand Sculpting Championships on Fort Myers Beach with his art "Mirage," he went on to capture the 2010 World Solo Championships in Federal Way, Wash. He is unable to compete on the Beach this year.

Fort Myers Beach will again play host to professional sculptors and a World Championship qualifier for the 2010 American Sand Sculpting Championship Festival in early November.

The five-day Beach festival event will again be held on the sugar-white sands at site sponsors Holiday Inn on the Beach, Gullwing and Pointe Estero beach resorts of Sunstream Hotels and Resorts from Nov. 10-14.

The SandVendor Village, a general tent area featuring food, beverage and many other festival vendors, will again be located in between the two venues.

The winning sculptor from the 24th annual American SandSculpting Championship automatically earns an invitation to the 2011 World Championships next September in Federal Way, Wash. The Beach event is one of only 11 events in the world to be chosen as a qualifier for the World Championships.

“It’s a fantastic, family event where you can see some of the world’s best sculptors start with just a pile of sand and create a masterpiece of art work,” said Andrew Cochrane, who has served as the chairman of the board for the local sand sculpting event for five years and is the 2010 FMB Chamber chairman of the board.

The festival actually is scheduled to kick off Tuesday, Nov. 9, when Master Sculptors combine forces for the Group Sculpture Carving (a logo-sponsored sculpture), slated from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The logo carving continues on Wednesday.

More than 50,000 people are expected to check out this year’s festival featuring seventeen of the world’s best Master Sculptors, along with Florida State and Amateur Sculptors. Carvers will begin their individual artistry Thursday afternoon and will continue shaping their sculptures all weekend long before adding final touches Sunday when the judging takes center stage.

At roughly 6 p.m. that day, the awards ceremony begins and the winners will be announced and automatically qualify for the 2010 World Championships.

On the competition days (Friday through Sunday), festival attendees can purchase a Master’s View pass which offers a fenced-off viewing of the Master Sculptors work for the following daily rates: children and seniors are $3 each; adults cost $5 each; and a family package (parent(s) with children) is $10 per day. The fee structure is also for attendance inventory (helpful for future use in getting sponsorships and Tourist Development Council dollars) and to make sure that the high level of competition continues.

There are those who have questioned the admission charge, which began last year.

“It’s not something that we want to do, it’s something that we have to do,” said Cochrane. “The appearance fees have tripled to get the world’s best sculptors here. We are paying for their airline tickets. It’s a very, very expensive event to put on. It’s just something we have to do to get the very best.”

FMB Chamber President John Albion agrees his sponsoring organization needs to be sensitive to the community needs with the admission costs, but would like to improve the event at the same time.

“We’re trying to keep it affordable for families,” he said. “Instead of having a fee with less expensive sculptors, we’re having a fee with better product for it. There has been a lot of careful scrutiny to get to this point. It should be a much easier access for people attending the event at the SandVendor Village. Meanwhile, we’re looking forward to a steel drum band being there. We’re also being more careful this year about the fact there is a residential area nearby. The generators will be closer to the Gulf than the residents.”

Due to a strict no parking policy at event locations, the FMB Chamber is providing free parking and a free shuttle service just north of Lover’s Key State Park’s entrance with the best access via Bonita Beach Road.

This year’s event is important to show people in the nation and world that the six-month-old Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill never did and still hasn’t affected Lee County beaches.

“At the Chamber of Commerce, we still get calls daily from people thinking there is oil on our beach,” said Cochrane. “The TDC ramped up their sponsorship money because they wanted to showcase our beaches being clean. We hope people will take a lot of photos so that they can share them with their families and get them on different websites to show everybody how pristine our beaches are and jump-start the tourism for 2011.”

Albion is happy about how the Beach event is perceived within the state.

“Our event has been so note-worthy in the state that when the Panhandle received BP oil money and decided to do a sand sculpting event with that money, they called around to see how they event should be put on. Every one of the places contacted said you should call the Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce because they’ve done it the longest. We thought that was a nice pat on the back about how much of a quality event we put on.”

Albion said festival goers will have a street party of sorts to attend Saturday night on Old San Carlos Boulevard by Times Square as well as a gala for the Paint the Beach event (information below) on Friday night.

“We’re trying to make it where people will stay on the island and enjoy the festival without large gaps at night,” he said.

At last year’s American Sand Sculpting Championship Festival, Koet’s first-place finish was followed by second-place finisher Carl Jara with “Unraveling”; third-place finisher Dan Belcher with “The Pheonix”; fourth-place finisher Karen Fralich with “Breaking Point”; and fifth-place finisher Dan Doubleday with “Arielle.” There was a tie for the People’s Choice award between “Amazin” Walter McDonald with “Where few go…” and Fred Mallett with “Food Fight.”

Katie Corning, a Fort Myers Beach resident and Master Sculptor who was captain of silver medalist Team USA in the team division at the 2010 World Championships of Sand Sculpting in Federal Way, Wash., said there will be 16 Masters coming to compete and three Masters on staff (herself, Suzanne Altamare, group carve and photo-op coordinator, and Estero’s Bill Knight, judge) for the event, including all Team USA members.

Unfortunately, Florida’s own Thomas Koet of Melbourne, the 2010 World Solo champion in Washington and the reigning Beach champ after capturing top honors in the 2009 American Sand Sculpting Championships on the Beach with his sculpture “Mirage” will not be competing on the Beach this year.

“The Master Sculptors are very positive about the event,” said Corning, the competition coordinator. “They are well treated, like the sand very much and like the people and the fact they come out to support sand sculpting even with the admittance fee which is now pretty much standard.

“Of those 19 sculptors, all but four went to the World Championships and seven brought back medals. All 19 of us are going on to either Siesta Key (Crystal Classic) or Treasure Island (Sand Festival) the following week. It’s an amazing group of talent.

Corning said there will be more subjects for photos and various places and opportunities where the festival goer can get their photo taken in front of the sculptures.

“Suzanne will be changing the names of the sculptures so that one will say “Happy Holidays” or “Happy Birthday, Jill” or whichever name is needed,” she said.