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It only takes a little effort and a bunch of water to turn a mound of sand into a seemingly impenetrable fortress. And you can see firsthand how well that's done Saturday as the Friends of Hunting Island puts on its third annual Sand Sculpture Contest.
The competition is more friendly than fierce, so the main objective is to have fun, said event organizer Nancy Grimaldi of Friends of Hunting Island. But that doesn't mean you can't incorporate some more advanced techniques into your beach fortresses.
Use a few of these tips from expert Lucinda Wierenga's book "Sandcastles Made Simple."
Try building your creation from the top down.
Start with a large pile of sand. With a rod or handle, poke holes in it. Pour water over the pile to stabilize, then pack it down until it feels solid.
Then, start carving from the top. Use your hands to push and mold the sand into shapes. Then, smooth them with the edge of a shovel or other carving instrument.
In the end, the technique gives the perception of your creation arising from a mountain of sand.
Use the drip method.
Combining water and sand in a bucket, take out small handfuls. Pointing your fingers down, let the sand dribble out to form towers.
These "drip castles" work best on a small scale. Think shrubbery or trees surrounding your castle.
Find the right way to mix your sand and water.
The key to a good castle is hard sand. Sometimes the best method is to just dig a hole in the sand until you hit water. Stop when the water starts to puddle.
This eliminates the need to constantly refill buckets in the sea.
Experiment with the "hand stacking" method.
This technique takes some practice, but it's what a lot of hardcore castle-builders employ to make those pristine looking towers. Mix together sand and water until it has the consistency of cake batter.
Using two hands, take out a large scoop of sand. Plop it down onto a base. From there, take another handful of sand and jiggle it so it is essentially like a flat puddle in your hand. The sand should move like Jell-O.
Plop it onto the tower and repeat, letting the layers gel into each other.
From here, you can carve towers, add stair cases, even create arches.
Don't limit yourself to just sand.
Natural elements are in play -- sticks, shells and other beach debris make for nice decoration.
Judges operate under three criteria: originality, composition and technique. They're looking for concepts they haven't seen before (hint: SpongeBob SquarePants tributes are a bit played out) with inventive techniques.
Think like an artist with the sand as your medium. After all, the lead judge is Deanna Bowdish, owner of Beaufort's The Gallery. "We take judging seriously, but it's all in good fun," she said.