Pro sand sculptor Hannah Emmerson shares her tips + tricks for beachgoers ahead of this years annual sandcastle competition.

Like most children who had the privilege of growing up on island, Hannah Emmerson spent a great deal of her childhood building sandcastles on the blush pink shores of Bermuda’s beaches. But, it wasn’t until she returned home from university with a fine arts degree, that she found herself entering her first sandcastle competition with her best friend, Erika. The pair won their first competition in 2003, and went on to win every year they entered except for two.

In 2017, Emmerson took over the reigns from Nicky Gurret as the organizer of the annual Bermuda Sandcastle Competition. Despite no longer being able to enter the beloved event, her passion for the craft grew exponentially. Most of Emmerson’s weekends are occupied by perfecting her technical mastery at various beaches across the island. “I love that each location offers new ideas and I am always trying to push the sand to new unexpected places or limits,” she exclaims.

Some might question the rationale behind building a castle that will eventually wash away with the tide, but Emmerson finds beauty in the process. “I love that each castle is different and holds its own challenge,” she explains. “Sometimes it’s trying to defy gravity with an impossible arch, other days it’s racing to finish before the sun goes down.” When the tide does eventually begin to encroach on her creation, Emmerson does not view it as a misfortune but rather as an opportunity – “a new blank canvas on which to create.”

While sand sculpting remains a hobby for her, it is slowly transpiring into a profession too. This year marks her third consecutive year producing a calendar and greeting cards showcasing her castles. The artist also accepts commissioned bespoke work for corporate events, weddings and birthday parties. And most recently she was approached to commission a sculpture of Peppa Pig for the characters official social media channels.

Emmerson’s castles and creative whimsy continue to generate interest on social media through her Instagram page, which she updates regularly. Last year, her sculptures were featured on a series of Bermuda stamps, and she was even asked to participate in an international sandcastle competition for a Canadian TV show. “What started out as a fun way to pass the time at the beach has gone much further that I ever thought possible,” she remarks. “I can’t wait to see where it takes me next.”

While most of Emmerson’s sand sculptures are extremely detailed works of art, she believes that absolutely anyone can build a sandcastle. One of her greatest joys is teaching workshops ahead of the sandcastle competition, which this year are set to take place on Wednesday, August 31st and Thursday, September 1st at Horseshoe Bay Beach from 5:30pm – 7:30pm.

Whether you are registered for this years competition or not, below, Emmerson shares some tips and tricks for anyone looking to hone their sand sculpting skills this summer.

  • Find the Right Sand
  • Surprisingly, not all sand found in Bermuda is conducive to sandcastle building. Emmerson explains, “If the sand is too coarse then it won’t compact and bind together. Beaches like Somerset Long Bay, Church Bay, Warwick Long Bay and Gates Bay should be avoided. While the best beaches are Horseshoe Bay, Elbow Beach, John Smith’s Bay and Clearwater.”

Once you have decided on a beach, it is important to note that finer sand is found higher up on the beach where it is dried and bleached by the sun. Whereas, coarser sand is found nearer the shoreline where dense fragments of red foraminifera are more apparent. As a rule of thumb, Emmerson recommends testing the sand first by forming a sand ball with a little wet and dry sand. If it does not crumble, the conditions are ideal for building a castle. If your sand ball won’t stay together, it’s best to find another beach.

  • Tools
  • According to Emmerson, the most important tool you need is a bucket to haul water as “you can only build a good sandcastle with wet sand.”  Water is a natural binder that creates surface tension, so be prepared to take multiple trips from your build site to the shoreline to refill your bucket. Apart from that, you may find it useful to bring a shovel if you plan to create a large castle. When it comes to carving tools, simple household items such as a straw, spatula, and spoon will do the job. Although, if you want to go a step further, a painter’s palette knife will make sharp edges easy and a soft paintbrush can be helpful in creating smooth surfaces. Plus, don’t forget suncream, a hat and plenty of water to stay hydrated.
  • Design
  • When it comes to selecting a design for a castle, Emmerson often yields inspiration from our natural surroundings. In Bermuda, “you have the most amazing backdrops and scenery to inspire you,” she says. Despite the literal name “sandcastle”, not all castles take this shape. Emmerson believes “your ideas are only limited to your imagination” and it’s evident through each masterpiece she creates. Some suggestions include mermaids, sharks, whales and other seaside themes. Keep in mind when planning your design that Bermuda sand will not support heavy undercutting, large arches and freestanding arms, unlike sand found in the USA, which consists mostly of clay.
  • Shapes & Compaction
  • The first step in building a sandcastle it to make a volcano shape. If you pour water on top of a mound of dry sand, it will not absorb. Therefore by pouring water into the middle of a mound, you can mix the sand well. Pile the sand up layer by layer by patting and compacting each handful of wet sand to make your mound as hard and smooth as possible. “The harder and wetter your sand, the easier it will be to carve and less likely it will be to crumble,” explains Emmerson.
  • Detail
  • Once you have formed the basic shape of your design, it is time to gather your tools and work on the detail. Always begin working from the top down, says Hannah to ensure the sand you cut away falls below and doesn’t cover your hard work. With a spatula, you can smooth and flatten areas. A spoon will allow you to dig out windows and doors, and a stick is used to draw details in. Keep in mind, a straw is essential to blow the fluffy sand away as you carve fine detail. Should you encounter a crack in your castle at this stage, gently pat some wet sand on top, followed by adding more water to cement it in place.
  • Final Words of Advice
  • “No matter how the day turns out have fun. That’s the most important thing,” says Emmerson. “Dream big and tomorrow the tide will leave you with a new blank canvas on which to create. And wear sunscreen!”

For more information about the Bermuda Sandcastle Competition, click here!