Wednesday, December 13, 2017
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20161117 WEB Sand-CastlesWhen my son visited recently with his wife and children from Idaho, the children were dying to go to the beach. So naturally, Grammy had to take them. But what do you do when the water is too cold to get in due to the season’s first cold front? Build sandcastles, of course!

South Padre Island is known around the world for its Sand Castle Days world competition and foreign visitors often travel to South Texas to compete. Andy Hancock is one of the best local builders of sand castles. According to Trip Advisor, he is the best in South Texas. He was very accommodating and came out to meet us in front of Billy Bong’s Bar and Grill on short notice.

He brought a wheel barrel, several buckets, some with the bottoms removed, and a few tools such as shovels, spatulas, mechanical pencils, and brushes. My grandchildren who were ages ten, eight and five were not sure they were going to like the lesson. But before it was over they thought it was great, and they could not wait to get back on the beach the next day to practice their skills.

Andy first builds a solid base for the castle. He then uses the buckets, which he fills with sand and then pours water over it to set the sand. He then places a hollowed out bucket on top and Dad got to shovel loads of sand inside while the children poured water to set the sand. The sides of the bucket were tapped gently before removing the cylinders. The sand stood perfectly after it had set and the sides were removed. Andy said the sand on South Padre Island is the perfect blend of clay, silt and micah that makes it stick together. The mixture is unique to the mouth of the Rio Grande River.

After creating two adjacent towers, he had the children fill in a wall between them for support. Then he started working on one side showing the children how to create a pointed roof for a lookout tower, how to square off the building, create stairs leading to the top, hollow out windows and create shutters on the windows. He designed a rock wall on the sides and added other little touches.

Then he gave the children the tools he had used and had them design the other side of the castle. Before long there were rocky sides, more stairs, moats, dungeons and other accessories.

20161108  WEB Sand Castle Building KO DSC 0402For a side activity, he took a small bucket and created a sand pile where he used a special rounding tool to create a large ball of sand. He said the ball weighed about 18 pounds and then tossed it to my son. They tossed it back and forth a few times and it held together perfectly.

Then my son took it and placed it on the front of the castle where the children turned it into a giant snail. No wonder the shutters on the castle stayed closed!

For those who want their castle to last a bit longer, Aqua Net® hairspray helps. Those who participate in the Sandcastle Days competition sometimes add Elmer’s Glue® to their mixture. Other special glues are used on professional projects that need to stand up for a while.

While we chose a simply turreted fairytale style castle because of the ages and talents of the children, Andy can create all kinds of castles. He showed a picture of a horse he created with one group. The type of project chosen depends on the age, ability and the attention span for the children. His prices vary, depending on the amount of detail wanted in the project and the time needed to create it.

Andy has built many sand castles since he moved to the Rio Grande Valley from Australia via Wales in 2004. He is often commissioned to do professional sculptures such as the one sitting in front of the South Padre Island Chamber of Commerce.

For commercial sandcastles expected to last a long time, he uses sand from the Laguna Madre, which has more clay in it.

In 2013 he won the North American Championship working solo. In 2014 he had the winning sandcastle in South Padre Island Sandcastle Days.

To set up a sandcastle building lesson, whether for a group of Winter Texan friends or for those grandchildren coming for Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter, call Andy at (956) 433-9948. Or e-mail him at sandcastlelessons.com. The grandchildren will love it, and you will too.

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