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Coney Island celebrates 29th annual sand sculpting contest

CONEY ISLAND — The sand on Coney Island’s beach went vertical on Saturday when dozens of amateurs, professionals and semi-pro sculptors poured their creativity into it for the 29th annual Sand Sculpting Competition.

In addition to classic castle designs, sculptors took creative approaches in building human and animal figures, symbolic scenes and political art pieces (one artist crafted the scene of a hand holding a sign that said, “Abolish ICE”).

“I think every year more and more people know about it, the crowds are bigger,” said Kristina Reintamm of Brooklyn Community Services, the group that hosted the event with the Alliance for Coney Island. “It seems to be becoming more and more of a real Coney Island signature event.”

The event was free and open to the public, accessed from the boardwalk at West 12th Street. Sculptors had four hours to craft their design. As the clock ticked closer to the cutoff time, swarms of beachgoers flocked to the sand to appreciate the art and take selfies in front of the pieces.

ebrooklyn media/Photo by Paul Frangipane
Coney Island held its 29th annual Sand Sculpting Contest off the boardwalk and West 12th Street.

Joe Sloboda, 58, who took first place in the Family category with his cousin Frank Russo, said he and Russo hadn’t touched sand in more than two years, but they quickly constructed their version of Hogwarts from Harry Potter, drawing crowds almost immediately after they started.

“We’ve been doing this for years, we started with our kids when they were very very small and now they’re adults and we still come to the beach as a family to enjoy the time together and make castles,” Sloboda said. “We enjoy the contest, we enjoy the camaraderie and most importantly, we enjoy the summer.”

This was the first year the contest gave out cash prizes for three contestants in each category, family, individual and adult group. The prizes were $250, $100 and $50. Sculptures were judged based on theme and creativity, according to Reintamm.

John Woodard, a client success manager who took second in the individual adult category, was fielding questions about his Two Thoughts piece all day. The sculpture featured a manic face inside of a cage and according to Woodard, represented the thoughts a person has when they’re trying to remain calm and be polite, even though they may be screaming in their head.

Because of the open nature of the event, passersby could register on the spot and compete. Gary Feliciano was watching the news in the morning, saw the contest was being held in a few hours and ran over from Sheepshead Bay to take part. He won in 2017 as well as this year in the individual adult category for his Climbing Woman, a figure of a woman climbing a mountain.

But Feliciano takes pride most in the influence he had on a little girl last year when he told her to join and she ended up taking first place.

He smiled and looked back on it saying, “The most important thing to me was that I planted a seed.”

ebrooklyn media/Photos by Arthur De Gaeta

ebrooklyn media/Photos by Paul Paul Frangipane

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