homepage logo

33rd American Sand Sculpting Championship comes to a close

By Staff | Dec 4, 2019

Armed with just sand, water, glue and tools to detail, sharpen and smooth out their displays, sculptors from around the world fascinated thousands of onlookers at the 33rd American Sand Sculpting Championship behind the Wyndham Garden hotel on Estero Boulevard this past week.

At the end of all the sand sculpting, a clear winner in the doubles competition: Maxim Gazendam and Delayne Corbett’s “A Grand Adventure into the Landscape of the Imagination.”

The pair put together intricate arrangements for a gothic castle on one side with a face of a person in deep dream, on the other side.

Gazendam, of the Netherlands, said the idea for the castle originated from a tattoo on a woman’s leg at the beach. “It inspired us,” he said. Gazendam’s intricate castle work was aided by his studies of architecture in college.

Gazendam has been sand sculpting since picking it up on the beaches of Holland in 1998.

“It was just a fun thing at the beginning as a hobby,” he said. Now it is his life’s work. He says the beach sand here is much better than in his home country. This is his fourth time competing on Fort Myers Beach.

The Dutchman almost scored a sculpting double when his solo work, “Architecture is Frozen Music,” received second place honors. To most in the crowd, the work was known simply as “The Piano Man.” The work featured a pianist at the bottom of a long flight of stairs. Gazendam said the pianist was not supposed to be anybody in particular. Just as the face locked into dream mode was open to interpretation, Gazania said each person can have their own ideas about what they see.

“It’s up to the viewer to tell their own story,” he said.

The title “Architecture is Frozen Music” is a quote from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a 19th century writer and statesman.

Corbett, of Vancouver, grabbed third-place honors for his solo work of “Luvbug.” A combination car and bug with dead bugs (just sand marks) on the front, the work resonated with those who see the swarms of love bugs every spring down here.

“The day before the event, I didn’t know what to do,” Corbett said. He looked up Florida myths and legends and “found this menace called the love bug.” The car itself was modeled and inspired by the 1968 film “The Love Bug.”

The solo competition was won by retired firefighter and professional sculptor John Gowdy, who took top honors for the third year in a row. “Soul Reunion” was sculpted as a pocket watch with himself and his late son John Jr., or as Gowdy called him “John John.”

His son died unexpectedly three years ago at the age of 29.

“I just wanted to put him and I together in a three-dimensional way,” Gowdy said. “It’s just a matter of time meaning someday we’ll be reunited with our loved ones.”

For Gowdy, Fort Myers Beach is special. He and his wife Laura Cimador-Gowdy, who is also a sand sculptor, were married here on the beach. They have been participating at the annual event for more than two decades. They reside in Atlantic City and Italy. They earn a living from sand sculpting full-time, doing corporate events, weddings and conventions. They even did a sculpture for Pope Francis, modeled after his hometown church in Argentina.

For the doubles competition, they joined forces for “Dream Catcher,” one of the more popular attractions of the championship. On one side, were two horses and on the other side was a sculpture of a Native American chief in honor of the Seminole tribe. Laura jumps horses as a hobby.

The championship was more than just sand and art, it brought thousands of families together. Ones like Marta Bender and her husband Randy of Iowa. They had been here before but brought along their mother Veronica to see the event for the first time as well as family from Texas. Their daughter Danielle likes the area so much she moved here from Iowa and became a teacher at Allen Park Elementary School in Fort Myers.

“We picked this week for the sand sculptures,” Mrs. Bender said. “We celebrated Thanksgiving in Bonita Springs at a home we rented.”

Siblings Jacob and Liz Parrish are regulars at the championship. Though Jacob lives in Charlotte and Liz lives in Washington D.C., their parents have a home on Fort Myers Beach. Jacob said he started taking up sand sculpting three years ago after taking a lesson from the organizers. He plans to enter the amateur division in the future.

“I never really knew how they got the sand so compact,” he said.

Brian Johnson, of Minnesota, was just happy to be away from home.

“There’s a snowstorm there right now so it’s a good time to get out of there,” he said. “We’ll go home and build these in snow.”