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Family tradition began on sandy beaches of Sanibel

By Staff | Apr 20, 2016

Minnesota residents Eric and Connor Hemme rented a wagon this year to transport sand from the waters edge to further up the beach in front of Sanibel Cottages Resort for the construction of their annual sandcastle. PHOTO PROVIDED

A Minnesota father and son created a tradition many years ago that ignites a special kind of excitement once spring takes hold and they travel south to Sanibel Island for their yearly vacation in either March or April.

Sue Hemme, who began visiting Sanibel as a fourth grade student in 1975 with her family, kept the annual vacation alive once she married and began having children of her own.

A tradition was formed in 2007 when her husband Eric and their son Connor built their first sandcastle together using the basic upside down buckets of sand method when Connor was just 5 years old. The duo decided to call their creation “Buddy Kingdom,” a name that has stuck over the years. The name stems from Eric always calling his son Buddy. When the sandcastle was created, kingdom followed, turning into “Buddy Kingdom.”

It was decided every year thereafter they would spend time creating another “Buddy Kingdom” together on the sandy beaches of Sanibel. The planning of the design and technique begins over dinner at their Eden Prairie, Minnesota home, weeks before their vacation begins. Due to their strategizing, the sandcastles have become more elaborate and bigger as the years pass by.

“We are getting better over the years,” Eric said. “They are all unique.”

What makes the sandcastles unique, is their use of whatever they can find on the beach, typically shells and this year crabs that were found deceased. A crab sat on the top of the kingdom, while others sat inside little holes on the sides.

One year, Connor’s grandma found an Army man and hid it in the “Buddy Kingdom” to see who could find the figurine.

This year the duo created their eighth sandcastle just left of the boardwalk from Sanibel Cottages Resort the second week of April. They constructed it on a Wednesday, so they had a few days to enjoy looking at it before heading back home.

“We like people to enjoy it,” Eric said.

Before the construction of the sandcastle begins every year, Eric and Connor begin their search for seashells on the beach, as well as in the water during low tide. The duo uses the shells as decoration for their kingdom.

“We try to find the best shells we can,” Eric said, which this year was a great assortment of conchs.

With the use of seashells, the father and son decided to built a mote around the sandcastle, so the shells would remain on their creation for longer periods of time.

This year Connor put the leftover shells in a pile next to the sandcastle with “free” written in front of them in the sand, so others can enjoy what they found.

“There were a lot of conchs that didn’t make the cut for the kingdom,” Eric said smiling.

Connor said his favorite part of creating the sandcastle is putting the shells on it “because it’s not hard work.”

Every year their tactic improves. Eric and Connor decided to rent a wagon to haul sand from the waters edge further up the beach. From there they mixed the sand with water because they found when compacted the sandcastle lasts longer. After a few days of collecting shells, they spend a full day creating their kingdom.

Unfortunately this year they were faced with Florida afternoon showers, which slowed them down for an hour.

“This year we had to shelter it for an hour to protect it,” Eric said about holding an umbrella over the sandcastle.

Follow Meghan @IslanderMeghan on Twitter.