Even whales love Ocean Beach sandcastles


SFBay photos by Ali Thanawalla, Eric Peterson, Scot Tucker and Juan Romero

OCEAN BEACH — If you wanted any proof Leap’s 29th Annual Sandcastle contest on Ocean Beach wasn’t about winners and losers, you only need look to three facts:

1) Every single one of the 28 teams participating in Saturday’s sand-and-water extravaganza earned an award in the contest.

2) By the time the team from Garfield Elementary and McCoppin Elementary schools was announced last at the contest main stage, a wind- and sand-battered crowd had thinned to just a handful of representatives from the winners.

3) The biggest oohs and aahs from the crowd were when huge sheets of participants peeled away from their sandcastles to check out a whale peeking out over the waves not far from shore.

A cold, foggy morning gave way to a bright — but windy — sunny afternoon. Thousands turned out to provide support for Leap Arts in Education, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that teaches and advocates arts in local schools.

Even afternoon winds that blasted over Ocean Beach couldn’t dampen the spirits of the hundreds of school kids who gathered around to hear their team names blasted over the public address system.

11-year-old Faith Daniels, a fifth-grader from Junipero Serra Elementary School in Bernal Heights, told SFBay she had a great time playing in the sand, and learned something too:

“What I learned about this event is that it helps me communicate better. By doing this sandcastle competition, we get to do teamwork and talk to others.”

Decked out in colorful t-shirts provided by their corporate backers, kids from schools across San Francisco piled, carved, crafted and perfected nearly three-quarters of a mile of sandcastles.

Kevin Wagner, vice president with San Francisco-based URS Corporation, chipped in with the team from Lawton Alternative School in the Outer Sunset:

“This sandcastle event allows these kids to understand the design process and be creative. We gave them the concept and split the teams into five groups.”

Lawton’s sandcastle — of a rabbit jumping through a drum circle — took home a prize for “best soundtrack” from the panel of judges.

At day’s end, teams gathered around the main stage to hear honors bestowed on all participating teams. A patient group from the Garfield and McCoppin team stayed on hand to accept the award for best in show. Team member Sarah Louie, from Martinkovic Milford Architects, accepted the award on behalf of her team.

Louie said planning for their sandcastle — depicting “kamikaze” penguins jumping into a shark’s mouth — has been in the works since spring, with the design emerging through three sessions with third graders.

Louie told SFBay it was “great” to get a win in her company’s third year working with Leap and the Sandcastle contest:

“The kids are always excited to get some award. But I’ll be sure to reiterate that this is the desired award.”

After patiently building the sandcastles all day under managed adult supervision — the kids who remained past the very end were given a chance to destroy the sandcastles with a final blast of unbridled energy.

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