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The Sandman

You see a beach—Dan Belcher sees building material.


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photos: courtesy Dan Belcher

It takes more than a plastic bucket and shovel to compete at the highest level of professional sand sculpting. Some works can take a week to complete and can be as tall as 50 feet.

Dan Belcher, the reigning world champion of this ephemeral art, was on O‘ahu recently, and, while he did not compete during his stay, he gave HONOLULU the lowdown on the finer points of professional sand-sculpting.

Sand sculpture is a passion Belcher has pursued since graduating from Kansas State University in 1992 with a degree in landscape architecture. “I was offered full-time work sanding in 1993,” he says, noting that competition purses can reach $25,000. Competitions have taken him from his home in St. Louis to Japan, Australia and O‘ahu. You might think Hawai‘i is a logical choice for holding sand contests, but the high cost of travel deters contestants.

Also, “Most sand on O‘ahu does not have the consistency to make large sculptures,” says Belcher, who prefers silt textures, because they pack the best. In fact, competition-grade sand is often delivered to a site. But a day trip to Kailua Beach Park had Belcher changing his tune. “Beautiful. Perfect sand!”

What’s the hardest part of creating sand art for Belcher? Convincing his family he has a real job.

Dan Belcher is king of the sand castle—and the sand nativity scene (left) and Beethoven (above).
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