A year removed from the celebrated 50th anniversary, the 2015 Sandcastle Contest’s estimated 10,000 attendees seemed almost quaint by comparison. Competition in the Masters division, however, remained near the Cannon Beach event’s high-water mark.
Wabi Sabi took first place. Along with medals and bragging rights, the 10-member team received a check for $1,200.
“We’ve come back from the depths,” said Wabi Sabi’s Eric Hawley.
The team, comprised of members from across Washington state, combined detail and finesse, art and architecture. At 15-feet-high, their castle was the tallest of the day. It was accompanied by an octopus, a mermaid and a shell cupping the earth, and fronted by a treasure chest bearing the theme: “The World is Your Oyster. Treasure It.”
Against the six others in the Masters division, Wabi Sabi’s entry was a crowd-pleaser, as visitors gathered close to watch the team at work. The builders obliged with additional showmanship, at one point breaking from sand-shaping into dance.
“Our motto is: if you’re not here to have fun then, why are you here?” Hawley said. “We want the people to have fun. We want everyone here to come back and see us. “
As much as it was a fan favorite — and the team took that award as well — so too were the judges enamored with Wabi Sabi’s creation. The four first place votes were unanimous. All contestants were judged not only on the finished product, but also teamwork, creativity and more.
“All of us came up with No. 1 separately, Masters judge Robin Risley said. “The use of the space, the detail, the teamwork, crowd excitement, the energy that they created — that was the one!”
With the win, Wabi Sabi found a bit of redemption.
“The last couple of years we haven’t done well,” Hawley said. “We brought some organization back to our group and worked a lot of things out, and now we’re cutting sand like we used to. We’ve been champions before, and to come back and be champions again feels great.”
The team, Hawley said would split the winnings. “We’re going to drink beer,” he chuckled. “We’ve got IPAs with our name on them!” Hawley’s good spirits extended to competitors, spectators and even the event organizers.
“Everything went really smooth, actually,” Sandcastle Contest Chairwoman Debbie Nelson said.
“Turnout was less than last year,” she added. “Last year was our 50th anniversary and we expected a massive crowd. We’re guesstimating about 10,000 in attendance this year. Last year it was close to 30,000.”
Rather than disappointment, the dip in attendance made for a more tranquil event.
Of particular relief to Nelson and her logistical team was that, for the first time in years, no young children were separated from their parents.
“I think that’s a record!” Nelson said. “No lost kids this year! So that was great. That’s why it’s so calm, there’s no sense of panic.”
Indeed, when held up against the 50th anniversary’s overwhelming crush of spectators, the 2015 contest was relatively serene, both on the beach and throughout the town. And while the crowds may have been thinner, they were still stacked rows deep around the seven Masters division plots.
Inside the ropes, competition was as fierce as ever.
“We had eight Master teams last year, and seven this year,” Nelson said. “I think eight might be the most we’ve ever had.”
“It’s been great to have all of that enthusiasm again, because a lot of people really come to see the Masters,” she added.
One of those teams, the Jessop family from Independence offered an added buzz as they were being followed by television cameras from Oregon Public Broadcasting, filming for an upcoming episode of Oregon Field Guide on the Sandcastle Contest. This year the three-generation Jessop team fielded three generations, including four siblings, wives and cousins, They’ve been competing for the last seven years, and five in the Masters Division.
“It’s been interesting,” Raymond Jessop said of being trailed by the cameras. “They came up and followed us on a practice in April for one day.”
At first, it didn’t go well.
“Everything fell down that day,” Jessop said. “And then they came up and interviewed us yesterday, and they’ve been poking cameras in our face all day. But it’s been a fun experience.”
The Jessops suffered another bit of bad luck at the contest when two bridges between sandcastles collapsed only five minutes before the final bell sounded.
“I’m a little disappointed about the arches falling,” Jessop said. “But that’s kind of just the way it goes.”
“I think a lot of it is the sun and the wind today,” he added. “We did one practice sculpture on Tuesday that was maybe two or three inches wider than the one that fell, and it held for about nine hours. Today it was really just bad luck, to some degree.”
Still, the Jessops, whose sculpture depicted the board-game LIFE, quickly cleaned up the fallen bridges and managed a third-place finish, behind the Form Finders. While the official acknowledgment and the $400 check were no short shrift, the Jessop’s participation was about more than just awards.
“That’s really just a consolation prize to us,” he said. “It’s more of family time. We don’t get a whole lot of time to just spend a whole week goofing off. So it’s special.”
“Mom was looking for something to keep us busy a couple years ago,” Jessop said. “Me and my next younger brother were just moving out of the house, so she was also looking for something to get us to come back home occasionally. So this was her idea. It’s worked so far. It’s got us back every single year since.”