sugar sand

Benjamin Probanza, a Spanish master sculptor competitor who now lives in Mexico, said he loves sand as a sculpting medium. ‘All countries have very good sand,’ he says.

CLEARWATER — Benjamin Probanza climbs a small hill with a melon scooper to make sure the seahorse’s fins are perfect. The Spanish artist — one of a group of international master sculptors under the long tent on Clearwater Beach — is preparing his work depicting sea life for the Pier 60 Sugar Sand Festival. From Clearwater’s famous sugary-white sand, Probanza has carved sea turtles, dolphins, seabirds, and … the Sydney Opera House?

“Each of us was given a continent and its sea life to represent, and I picked Australia,” Probanza said, explaining in his strong Spanish accent that artists picked continents from a hat. “That’s why opera house.”

Probanza and the other artists sculpting the world’s marine life for Friday’s festival opening under the Sugar Sand Walk tent are part of a unique group. They get to travel to the world’s greatest beaches doing what they love to do best.

“China, Singapore, Canada, Mexico, Holland, Belgium, Italy, Peru, Germany, England, India, I been to all,” Probanza says in broken English. “All countries have very good sand.”

As one watches a few of the 14 artists at work, the Sugar Sand Festival’s theme — “Sea the World” — begins to come into focus.

Karen Fralich, a master sculptor from Toronto turns her mound of sand into the Northwest native culture’s depiction of an orca, aka killer whale, with a breeching narwhal in the foreground. Martijn Rijerse, 45, of Rotterdam, Holland, works on a huge croc for his Africa exhibit; Jooheng Tan, 45, of Singapore, depicts sea life in the water off the New York City skyline. Elsewhere under the tent there are whales, more sea turtles, coral, tropical fish and other rich examples of marine life.

The public will judge the sculptors’ work to good end: Guests vote the winner of the $7,000 Master Sand Sculpting Competition by donating cash or small change in the name of the artist, Chandler told the Beacon. All of the proceeds will be donated to Sandy Lane Elementary School in Clearwater, and possibly a second Title 1 school in the area, Chandler said.

Once the Sugar Walk pieces are judged, the sculptors then move onto individual competition, which pits one against the other.

“Our International sculptors are from St. Petersburg Russia, Singapore, Mexico, Canada, Belgium, Mexico,” said Lisa Chandler, who founded the Pier 60 Sugar Sand Festival in 2013 with six sculptors. Over the years we have commissioned the sculpting team Sandtastic to build sculptures for different events.”

The biggest draw — the 21,000-square-foot tented Sugar Sand Walk — is the only ticketed portion of the 17-day festival, Chandler said. Other events, such as firebreathers, break dancers, free movies under the stars, Frenchy’s Beach Concerts, the Camp Hyatt Sand Box, Wyndham Grand Sculpting Classes, fireworks, Clearwater Gas Speed Sand Demonstrations, and other events are free.

The event is from April 12 – April 28. For more information on the festival, traffic, parking, ticket prices, and other event information, go to Sugarsandfestival.com