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International Sand Art Competition Draws Thousands to Key West on Thanksgiving

The second-annual International Sand Art Competition, happening Thanksgiving weekend, will trade turkey and gravy for sun and sand with six internationally known sand sculptors showcasing their best sand-made masterpieces — think elaborate castles, tribal displays, and your favorite animated characters. The four-day competition will be held beachside at the Casa Marina Resort in Key West.

Six sculptors will compete against each other, but no rankings will be given. Awards are divided between the Sculptor’s Award, where participants judge all sculptures but their own; the Conch Republic Award, where local officials and artists decide which sculpture best reflects Key West; and the People's Choice Award, where the audience gets the opportunity to vote for their favorite sculpture. Each sculptor will receive 7.5 tons of sand to create one piece. This year's competitors are Chris Guinto, a native of Key West; Benjamin Probanza of Mexico; Dan Belcher of St. Louis; Susanne Ruseler of the Netherlands; and Abe Waterman of Canada.

"The world of sand sculptors is fairly small," says Marianne van den Broek, the competition's founder. "There are only a couple of hundred of us on the planet that do this professionally so we are pretty familiar with each other’s work."

The audience will have the opportunity to create too, with a large space dedicated to attendees creating their own sand sculptures during the competition. "Sand sculpting is universally loved as a form of art," she says. "It truly brings a sense of amazement and wonder to everyone who see it."

This year, Broek expects upwards of 16,000 attendees from around the world, thanks to increased advertising. Last year, she estimated about 12,000 people attended based on the number of votes for the People’s Choice Award, with Key West residents making up about half, and the other half were from out of town. "Key West is a very international little town which means we reached a very broad audience from all over the world."

After participating in sand-art events for more than 15 years throughout the world, Broek thought it was time to bring a similar event to Key West. Last year was the first professional sand event ever in Key West, and Broek says it was the year where everything fell into place.

"The location, Casa Marina, is by far the best venue for a sand sculpting competition in the country," she says. "The people who helped me put this together, the sculptors, the support of the entire town and visitors – even the weather gods were on our side." 

Broek says last year's competing sculptors loved the location so much that they "declared it the best sand sculpting competition in the country to fellow sculptors." Since, she's received requests from sculptors around the globe to participate. "It is tough to say 'no' since we have such a limited number of competitors in this event," she says. "But choices had to be made. We have two new international sculptors in the mix this year."

Though Broek has kept the event small, she says she sees the number of sculptors grow in the future. "I wouldn't mind giving more sculptors the opportunity to show their talents," she says. "Of course, it is almost expected an event will grow and get bigger over time, and as long as I can maintain the level of quality over quantity, I will."

International Sand Art Competition
November 25 through November 28 at Casa Marina Resort, 1500 Reynolds St., Key West. Visit
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Clarissa Buch Zilberman is a writer and editor, with her work appearing in print and digital titles worldwide.
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