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How to build a Big Sandcastle!

Sand Castle Capital of the World South Padre Island

How to build a BIG Sandcastle with your Family!

Take a lesson from a pro!

Building sandcastles wasn’t an activity I’d thought much about since my childhood, but on a family vacation in Texas, I found a Trip Advisor review of Sandcastle lessons close to our vacation Condo. All of the reviews raved about it being fun for both the children and the adults, so I thought, why not?

We met our Instructor, Andy Hancock (former American Champion who was born in Australia!) right on the beach where he said he would be with a lot of equipment for us to use, Buckets, shovels, hand tools and all sorts of household items that we could learn with – he even bought Sunblock!

At this point, It was dawning on me that we’d be building a bigger sandcastle than I originally imagined! The 3-hour lesson was fascinating! It included lots of laughing, science, math, history, and Andy was able to talk about almost anything – which was awesome, as engaging my teenager is a major task! (They don’t know I’m posting this, but I’d highly recommend them if you ever vacation on South Padre Island in Texas – 5 stars)

Andy started by talking about the difference between the types of sand on the beach and the proper way to build a real, professional-style sandcastle using 3 golden rules

  • Always use wet (sloppy) sand (no such thing as too much water when making the base and formed blocks completely solid.
  • Always form the shape using a pyramid – larger at the base – thinner at the top
  • When all the formed sand is completed work from the top to the bottom – gravity is a big part of his lessons!

Turns out, the method I’d learned as a kid of packing wet sand into a mold and flipping it over was not very effective, as there are many more effective ways to build sand structures that are stronger and bigger. He explained the 4 types of sandcastle building

  1. Forming – using a container to hold wet sand in place until its ready
  2. Hand Stacking – using wet sand “pancakes” stacked on top of one another
  3. Soft packing – using partially wet sand to push into shapes to be carved quickly for finishing
  4. Drip Castling – letting molten wet sand drip from your fingers and hads to form delicate details such as trees and small turrets.

His methods included everyone having a go at each stage so everything was clear and the experience was “hands on”. Great picture opportunities were directed by Andy who has a knack for knowing his client’s reactions!

Using the right tools for Sandcastle Building

Andy took the time to go through every tool that is included in the toolkit that comes with your lesson. This toolkit is great as there enough for everyone and they all seem to suit different tastes in the family. Andy did point out that sandcastlers come in two distinct types – diggers and decorators!

His use of tools that were used by pros was carefully explained so that you knew you had the right one – this was great to see as it made my children and me experiment and try more new ideas.

  • A range of Sand shovels from mini shovels to larger digging and shaping ones
  • A drinking straw on a lanyard (so they don’t get lost in the sand) – I liked using Hard Plastic reusable straws since they could also be used for detail – his message was “lets all work to save sea turtles from debris, such as straws, in the ocean” – good to hear that.
  • 2 gallon buckets
  • 5-gallon Buckets
  • 12-gallon Buckets
  • 45 gallon trash can
  • A set of Sand Shapers – unreal the way this amazing tool worked so simply
  • A set of advanced tools
  • A duster or makeup brush for finishing soft surfaces

(Note: You can find lots of buckets if you contact a pool cleaning company – recycle and save the planet!)

Andy’s service didn’t stop with our great tools – he even lent us buckets and a large shovel for the rest of our stay! – Hours of peace and family fun. He also told us that if we really wanted to have a go on our own he also does a comprehensive tool rental service for your vacation. Tools can be purchased as gifts or extras on the day using the original booking form – we bought another full toolkit for a Christmas present for beach lovers we know!

How to build Amazing Sandcastles

I definitely won’t be able to explain this as well as Andy did but we learned by doing everything from the ground up! I’m sharing some of the important basics and new words we learned:

There are 5 steps that go in order with any sandcastle building:

  1. Create a base – get your castle up off the beach – make a volcano and add water – then add sand to that pool and let gravity do the rest – the children wanted to jump up and down on it but Andy showed them that it wasn’t necessary (but they did it anyway) as gravity and lots of water make your sandcastle strong!
  2. Spray your forms and buckets with lube (olive oil, Pam, etc) then place on the volcano base Upside down – this was the source of many laughs during our lesson – and fill about a ¼ full of sand and add water and mix and chop up thoroughly. Andy called this “setting the base”
  3. Water: Pour lots more water into your bucket and then add sand to water – this gets rid of all the air in your castle making it very strong! While filling the forms(buckets) you can tap the sides of all the buckets to ensure Compaction – making sure all the sand has no air in it.
  4. Repeat this process: stack one bucket on top of another using the same technique on each one easy rule was put all the buckets up at once then take all the buckets off together
  5. Work from the top down: Use your tools and not your fingers were the main things Andy stressed during our lesson! He also said that you could almost use anything to build and shape a sandcastle but as a professional who wanted to show families a skill they could use for a lifetime he didn’t want to compromise – we agreed when we saw what was possible!

Starting from the top means that you can work quickly and avoid spraying sand on top of what you have already finished! We used these steps to build a 6ft+ foot tall sandcastle. It was amazing!

Adding the details

There are many ways to build a castle but the easy way we learned is to make the top of your castle look like a Pencil.

This makes the roof clean and sharp then using the small Spatula make the eave and carry on from there. Andy was keen to point out that the small spatula is THE main tool for shaping almost anything on the castle including really neat windows that had shutters on them!

Rocks and stones are made with the mechanical pencils, debris on everything is blown away with the straws and then details that are meant to be worn or softer (like rocks) are dusted, (using a makeup brush that was in our kit!!), outlined and blown again for clean details.

Stairs were simple – in theory!

When you have the formed block built and have finished your pencil roof then leave room for a door and carve a deep diagonal line into the block finishing about halfway down. Then starting at the top, and this bit was repeated by my children after the lesson at dinner, you cut with the small spatula – DOWN, OUT, Sideways, IN then lift off – no flicking! Kids were having a lot of fun with this! But my oldest daughter nailed it! We laughed about whether Andy says this in his sleep!

Andy was great at letting us do our own thing while keeping an eye on us then stepping in if we were struggling or wondering what to do next – no-one was left to struggle – this was especially good for my youngster!

Our confidence grew as time went on and when he told us we would have to wrap up and start finishing the castle and add our family name for our pictures I couldn’t believe 3 HOURS had gone by.

The lesson was full of surprises and my older teenager almost forgot where her phone was – (a miracle to be sure!) The science was great too with simple science being explained by a sandcastle guy – who would have thought about that 3 hours before?

The last thing Andy showed us just took our breath away – using a simple 2-gallon bucket he made a perfect sphere in under 2 minutes. The sand shaper tools, which are included in the kit, provided the ultimate challenge to my kids who thought they were “on it!”  This was just amazing and no-one could believe it

After our lesson, we spent the next few days working on our own sandcastle designs using the tools and buckets he had loaned us. The kids (and adults) had a blast getting creative!

As a Mom or Dad will know these days, getting your children engaged in anything not connected to a phone or tablet is near impossible.

We turned up as a family and worked as a family – and I got to see a new side of focus and creativity in everyone – including me! The time was worth every penny to really have fun with all my family!

We would recommend this service to anyone – especially those who think they can’t build an amazing Sandcastle!