Castles — Hippos and Lobsters — in the Sand

A giant fish head in the sand at the Clamshell Foundation's annual Sandcastle contest at Atlantic Avenue Beach in Amagansett. Josh Brussell photo

One year, there was a huge snail overtaking East Hampton Town. Another year, there was a giant squid attacking a narwhal. Then there were the dolphins attacking a killer whale, and a raft with a guy missing a leg and a shark looming nearby. All at Atlantic Avenue Beach in Amagansett — and all made out of sand.

Joshua Brussell recalled those award-winning sand sculptures with zeal, adding adjectives like “awesome” and “insane” after each one. He and his team of friends entered the Clamshell Foundation’s annual Sandcastle Contest several years in a row, often winning trophies and taking home bragging rights.

“It was a lot of fun,” Brussell, of East Hampton, said. “Doing it on your own is not fun at all, but when it was a bunch of friends doing it, we really got into it. We were really competitive. We started talking about it weeks before it happened.”

This year, the Clamshell Foundation will put on its 28th contest on August 10, a new date adjusted so as not to conflict with an East Hampton Volunteer Ocean Rescue junior lifeguard tournament. The foundation charges $10 per entry and puts the proceeds toward student scholarships, fireworks shows and other community-minded causes. Contestants can arrive as early as 7 a.m. and judging begins at 3:30 p.m.

“Come to a spectacular day at the beach,” said Billy Kalbacher, chief executive officer of the Clamshell Foundation. “Enjoy family and friends in a setting that’s filled with joy and creativity and community. That’s what it’s all about.”

A Hampton hippo in the sand. Josh Brussell photo

The Village of Southampton will hold its annual Coopers Beach Sandcastle Contest — a tradition dating back more than 40 years, according to deputy village clerk Eileen Musarra, who helps manage and judge the contest — on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend this year, which is August 31. Judging is at 2 p.m. and prizes are donated by local merchants.

“You can build a traditional castle or try to get clever,” Musarra said, recalling a giant red-tinted lobster, a whale with a working waterspout and more. “It’s about individuality and being creative. Pretty much anything goes.”

Hither Hills State Park in Montauk also hosts a weekly sandcastle contest on Thursday mornings between June 27 and August 29, with registration beginning at 9:30 a.m. More information is available online at

Brussell offered some advice for aspiring sandcastle stars.

“Keeping your sand wet is key. We would get garden sprayers and keep filling them up with saltwater, and someone’s job would be to keep spraying the sculpture,” he said. “But they get heavy. If you put too much on one side it will fall over, but if it’s too dry it will crumble. Instead of piling up, it’s good to dig down and make a hole. We gave each other jobs. Having a group of people building it together was key to it.”

Sure, the Clamshell contest has categories and trophies and bragging rights involved. But the secret, Kalbacher said, is that it’s not really a competition at heart.

“Everybody’s smiling,” he said. “Everybody’s having a good time.”