International Sand Art Competition highlights Thanksgiving Weekend

Hanging out on the beach, 13 years ago, Key West sand artist and Key West International Sand Art Competition veteran Chris Guinto found playing in the sand was an easy way to break the ice with the ladies. “Chicks liked what I was doing,” he said going from amateur level to master level at a party one night. He even met his wife, Marianne van den Broek, founder of the competition and master level sand sculptor herself, while digging around at a Texas sand competition a couple months later. They’ve been married for 12 years.

Key West is invited to watch six leading U.S. and international sand sculptors construct and display large-scale creations at the second annual event Wednesday through Sunday, Nov. 25-29, at Casa Marina Resort. Viewing is free and open to the public.

“For me it’s very interesting that the sculptures are temporary, this makes them special, since there is only a small window of time when they exist,” said the only female competitor Susanne Ruseler of the Netherlands, who is  one of the world’s most respected sand sculptors and going to be tough competition for the men. “You learn a lot from people’s reactions, and it’s a great opportunity to travel and work with creative people all over the world.”

Guinto added that the artists never really know what they are going to make when they start. “We have an idea in our head, but sometimes Snoopy’s doghouse turns into a Hungarian piano player,” he said. “It’s top secret; sand sculptors will never reveal what they are making, because sometimes it has to change.”

Weather, rain, wind, and vandalism all have something to do with artistry. “We have to deal with the elements,” he said, noting that one of his sculptures lasted more than a year. “Rain the first day is great, but it’s not so great on the ‘detail days’ when we work at creating things like faces — it leaves everything pitted.”

Wednesday starts with the calorie burning day, lugging 15,000 pounds of wet sand to build the foundation of the sculpture. “It’s like a house,” said Guinto. “You can’t rush a good foundation.”

Van den Broek, with 15 years in the sand world, said all must craft their sculptures out of only sand and water, using hand tools such as trowels and brushes. No electric tools, molds or glue are allowed. “There are only a couple hundred of us across the world, so it’s a pretty tight-knit community,” she said. “I hand selected this year’s competitors, quality over quantity, and they are at the very top.”

Competitors include Guinto and Ruseler, host of the Travel Channel reality show “Sand Masters” Rusty Croft, award-winning Missouri artist Dan Belcher, last year’s winner Benjamin Probanza of Mexico, and newcomer Canadian master Abe Waterman.

A designated area on the beach is available for kids and adults to create their own sand artistry beside the master sand sculptors.

Judging will take place Saturday afternoon after the sculptors put the final touches on their work. The Thanksgiving weekend event will conclude Sunday with the finished sculptures on display until sunset, or until the tides and weather wash them away.



  • Wednesday to Friday, Nov. 25-27: Six international renowned sand sculptors work at Casa Marina Resort in Key West.
  • Friday, Nov. 27: Mel Fisher’s Treasure Dig at 2 p.m. (Spectators can search the sand to compete for an authentic shipwreck treasure coin valued at $1,000.)
  • Saturday, Nov. 28: Finishing touches added to sculptures from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m.; people’s choice voting and party from 1 to 4 p.m.; awards ceremony at 5 p.m. followed by live music.

For a full schedule, see

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