At Cannon Beach’s 60th sandcastle contest, sand sculptors find community and share talents


Hundreds of people flocked to Cannon Beach on Saturday to watch the 60th anniversary of one of Oregon’s most creative events: the Cannon Beach Sandcastle Contest.

Despite short bursts of pouring rain in the early afternoon, crowds of people gathered to watch teams of sand artists create sculptures and castles from the wet sand of the Pacific coast.

While the intermittent rain sent some beachgoers scrambling for shelter and reaching for umbrellas, the dozens of competitors in the event’s seven entry categories were unperturbed.

“We can take a little storm here and there,” said 39-year-old competitor Grady Clapp, a member of the Form Finders team, which competed in the invitation-only masters category. “You actually do want some amount of water for the structures, so rain can be a little helpful.”

Clapp said that he and the Form Finders are based in Olympia, Washington, but make a point of traveling all the way to Cannon Beach to compete each year. This year, the team had eight members at the contest, Clapp said.

One of Clapp’s teammates, Erik Wilber, said that he has been sand sculpting for 12 years, and that the Form Finders have done competitions in the Washington towns of Long Beach and Ocean Shores. He said many of the participants of the Cannon Beach competition are part of a close-knit community of sand artists united by a shared love of their shifting material.

“That’s part of the artistic beauty of it; it’s a temporary medium,” he said. “That means it’s never boring, never the same.”

Elsewhere on the competition grounds, Martha Morrise of the masters category Ozymandias team was painstakingly carving a series of steps into an elaborate sandcastle.

“You fear the collapses,” Morrise said.

A dozen feet away, her teammate Chris Alder peddled a human-powered pump to draw ocean water that would allow the team to keep their sculptures from drying out and cracking. Morrise said that her brother had built the pump when he was in the 8th grade.

Morrise, who was born in Portland but now lives in Utah, said that she had been competing in the contest for the past 15 years, and the event had evolved into a longstanding reunion for her family members, who compete on the team each year.

The also invite family friends, coworkers and their families, she said while taking a break from carving, hands covered in sand. “We make it a big community thing.”

For Chrissy Curran, one of the competition’s judges, team spirit is one of the main things she looks out for when judging contestants.

“The No. 1 thing you look for is enthusiasm and teamwork,” Curran said. “And then you start looking at structural stuff.”

An Oregon Parks and Recreation employee, Curran said that it was her second stint as a judge after serving as one seven years ago.

“At this level, they really know what they’re doing,” Curran said. “They go to these things all over the country.”

As a few of the contestants’ designs were starting to form into recognizable shapes, Holter Kvamme, 11, and his 9-year-old brother, Parson, were watching sculptors from the Haystackers team transform a slab of sand into a menagerie of wild animals.

Their parents, Chris and Kira Kvamme of Portland, said it was their first year visiting the event as a family. Holter and Parson said the animals were their favorite sculptures so far, and Holter said he was amazed by the contestants’ teamwork.

“There’s so many people working together on these things,” he said. “And they’re coming out way better than I’ve ever seen.”

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