St. Petersburg Times: Super Bowl XXXV
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  • The Road to Super Bowl XXXV

    printer version

    Super Bowl sculpture rises from sand

    The creation, expected to set a world record for sports-related sand sculptures, includes two 30-foot-tall sand football helmets and 29 6-foot-tall ones.


    © St. Petersburg Times, published January 20, 2001

    CLEARWATER -- This ain't your father's sand castle.

    This is 3,000 tons of high-quality silica sand imported like some kind of delicacy from Lake Wales and molded into what promises to be the world's largest sand monument to football -- or any other sport, for that matter.

    The sheer size of the project would crush the average plastic pail and shovel, so Team Sandtastic relies on metal tamping tools, plaster spreaders and the occasional front-end loader.

    To the casual observer, the activity taking place on the beach at Sand Key Park might look like a bunch of grown men having a grand old time playing in dirt piles. And, well, that wouldn't be far from the truth.

    But these guys are professionals. And record-setting ones at that.

    When the sand sculptors finish their creation next week, two 30-foot-tall sand football helmets bearing the emblems of the New York Giants and the Baltimore Ravens will tower over the beach. Sandwiched between the two will be a sand replica of the Lombardi Trophy, which goes to the Super Bowl winner.

    And around the two large helmets will stand 29 6-foot-tall helmets bearing the insignia of the other NFL teams. Guinness World Records is expected to declare the creation the world's largest sand sculpture in the sports-related category.

    "A pile of sand can be anything. Capital A on "anything,' " said Mark Mason, professional sand sculptor for 11 years and leader of the project. "It's just so dynamic."

    Mason started sand sculpting for fun about 19 years ago, entering contests and winning repeatedly. Strangers started asking him to sculpt images out of sand for birthday parties and conventions. With Team Sandtastic, he parlayed his hobby into a business, which has three full-time sculptors and a host of independent contractors.

    On Friday, a half-dozen of them packed sand into hard, dense piles that will be carved into 6-foot-tall football helmets during the next few days. The exhibit will feature daily sunset laser shows when it officially opens to the public on Thursday. But a host of onlookers have dropped by daily to monitor the progress sans special effects.

    "We are on a beautiful beach making a big old sand sculpture," said Mason, dressed for work in a T-shirt, shorts and floppy hat. "What a life. I go to the beach on my day on."

    Mason and his colleagues have played with sand in Australia, Germany, Mexico and Canada. Their creations include underwater scenes, replicas of famous buildings, life-size models of people, company logos and, of course, castles.

    The company holds the current Guinness World Record for the tallest sand castle ever hand-built for a sculpture it created at Georgia Stone Mountain Park in July 1998. That castle was 28 feet, 71/4 inches tall.

    For the Sand Key project, 3,000 tons of sand was trucked in from the same pit in Lake Wales that supplies grains for Disney's beach resorts. When the helmets are knocked down on Jan. 29, the sand will remain for a renourishment effort at the beach.

    Nothing artificial is used to hold the sand together. Sculptors pump in saltwater from the gulf and mix it with the sand, tamping it down layer by layer like a wedding cake. The result is a dense, hard-packed pile of sand nearly impervious to high wind and rain.

    "A sculpture's only as good as its foundation," said sculptor John May, a graphic designer from Fort Lauderdale. "If you try to rush through it, more than likely it will fall."

    Team Sandtastic ordinarily builds its sculptures entirely out of sand. But this time, for each smaller helmet, sculptors packed the sand around a wooden frame to create a cavity in the middle of the helmet. A light will sit in each hole.

    The helmets will be detailed, right down to the chin straps and team logos, but no colors will be used per Guiness World Records rules.

    The 30-foot-tall helmets pose the toughest challenge. They must be hard packed from the bottom up but sculpted from the top down. Once an area at the top has been carved, the artist typically cannot go back and retouch it later because of the danger of leaving footprints behind on the finished work.

    The crew is ahead of schedule and is not worried about bad weather because the piles are so sturdy, Mason said. A security team watches over the sculpture 24 hours a day to keep the curious from becoming devious.

    Locals and tourists have stopped by to photograph the work and quiz the sculptors. County tourism officials, who are spending $623,000 on the sculpture, are hoping for a good chunk of media attention as well.

    Bob Martz and his wife, Lynne, snowbirds from Pennsylvania, came to check out the monument Friday after reading about it in the newspaper. The couple has seen sand sculptures in Ocean City, Md., Bob Martz said.

    "But they don't have anything like this," he said. "I couldn't believe it, a world record. I'll be over when this is done. I think it's really neat."

    It isn't all work for Team Sandtastic. May said he hopes to score Super Bowl tickets while he is in town. Though he is a Miami Dolphins fan, he will root for the Giants on Jan. 28.

    "I was just excited to get up here in the Super Bowl atmosphere," he said.

    Mason, on the other hand, admitted that he had no idea whose emblems needed to be carved on the 30-foot helmets until Tuesday, when county officials told him.

    "I'm oblivious to sports," he said. "When was the playoff game?"

    -- For tips on how to build a better sand castle, visit, the Team Sandtastic Web site.

    * * *

    Team Sandtastic of Sarasota hopes to break a world record with a sand sculpture on the beach at Sand Key Park. Two giant football helmets will feature the logos of the New York Giants and the Baltimore Ravens while 29 smaller sand helmets will represent other NFL teams. The county's Convention and Visitors Bureau is paying for the sculpture.

    Cost $623,000

    Amount of sand 3,000 tons

    Number of sculptors 6

    Number of 30-foot helmets 2

    Number of 6-foot helmets 29

    Days to build 10

    Days on display 5

    Visitors expected 25,000

    Parking spaces available 700*

    The county has agreed to let visitors park on the grass at Sand Key Park.

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