It was cloudy and cool at Corona del Mar State Beach, but that didn't bother the roughly 400 people who came out to play in the sand Sunday at the 40th Sandcastle Contest.
Alligators, mermaids, seals and trendy movie and cartoon characters Shrek and Sponge Bob Square Pants came to life, thanks to plenty of creativity, muscle power and teamwork.
Forty teams entered the contest, sponsored by the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce. Teams consisted of as many as eight workers in the sand plot area at one time, but an unlimited number of water carriers are allowed.
Some groups spent months designing their castle or sculpture; others spent a few days. And some, like the Townsend family of Newport Beach, simply stuck with a familiar theme--sand.
A few of the Townsends' past entries have been a sand dollar, Sand Francisco (the Golden Gate Bridge surrounded by several tall buildings) and a sandwich--a piece of bread with a witch flying out of it. This year they chose sandpaper--a man lying down with a newspaper covering his face.
"We're really working the dictionary to keep this sand theme going," said Pat Burns, whose sister, Cathy, is the team's designer and director.
The Townsends began entering the contest five years ago as a way to get their kids out of the house and off their computers.
"Cathy wanted something her children would have a childhood memory of," said Burns, serving as family photographer and spokesperson while the young kids were dumping sand, pouring water and carving. "It's nice to do something that's not self-centered but still creative and competitive."
And far from being a lazy day at the beach, lifting the sand and water is a lot of work.
"You just need muscles and that tireless young energy," Burns said.
On the plot next to the Townsends were the Cub Scouts from Pack 330 in Corona del Mar. The first-time entrants sculpted a Florida leaf, the Scout emblem, colored in blue and yellow Jell-O.
One of the more popular plots belonged to Larry Hamilton's team, which sculpted Sponge Bob and Patrick, characters in Nickelodeon's offbeat "Sponge Bob Square Pants" series. Hamilton, whose 14-year-old son, Matthew, designed the sculpture, used seashells for Sponge Bob's eyes and black sand for his feet.
The award for best overall creation went to the Weldon and McCool families, who won $50 for sculpting "The Working Lunch," whose centerpiece included a man lying on the beach. The award for most humorous, with a whopping $25 prize, went to the KTGY group for "Melt in Your Mouth"--an M&M's character lying on a beach towel.
The Doggie Walk Bags company won the masters sandcastle category for its three-level creation. The Greenberg Farrow Co. won in the masters sculpture division for "Swamp Surfer," and Team Afro won the nonmasters sculpture division for "40 Peaks." The most unique nonmasters sculpture went to the Barrington Capital Corp. for "Freddie the Shark."