Sand, Water & Sculpting

By Jonathan L’ecuyer

Hampton Union, Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Master sand sculptor Gregory Grady began the Hampton Beach competition four years ago and has been a sculptor for more than nine years. [Photo by Sarah Zenewicz]

HAMPTON - Hampton’s 'Sand Man’ won’t be putting you to sleep this week as he organizes the fourth annual Hampton Beach Sand Sculpting Competition. Greg Grady, a married father of two, is also a master sand sculptor and the driving force behind the sand sculpting contest at Hampton Beach that takes place this week.

Grady, a Hampton resident who hails from Boston, Mass., has always had a fondness for sand.

He explained that his father first introduced him to the possibilities of sand architecture when he was a young child.

"I would dig holes and bury my sisters and brothers," Grady said. He said his father just put his son’s hobby of playing in the sand to better use.

He loved the beach and making sand castles but it wasn’t until about 10 years ago that he realized he could make a living doing it.

That was when Grady discovered the Internet and decided to do some research.

"I had seen [sculptures] on TV," he said, "and wondered how they did it."

Grady was inspired to fly down to "sand castle central" - South Padre Island, Tex., where he would pay $25 for a lesson in sand sculpting.


t’s the best $25 he would spend so far.

His teacher in Texas encouraged Grady to enter a competition. He listened to her advice and made it into the Virginia Beach, VA competition in 1994.

That competition was the first step to the status Grady now holds: Master Sand sculptor.

Grady explained that a person can attain master sand-sculptor status in three different ways. First, if a person goes to a master sand-sculpting competition and is invited back the following year; they are considered a 'master.' The second way is by referral into a masters’ competition. Finally, winning prize money in a competition is the last way you can attain the title.

Grady quickly became a master sand-sculptor and has competed all across the country and even the world. Grady has sculpted in many locations on the West Coast, Ohio, Kentucky, Florida, Texas, Virginia, Canada, the Caribbean, and Mexico. He was invited to China and Europe recently but declined because it conflicts with the Hampton Beach competition, which he founded.

About six years ago, Grady attempted to start the Hampton Beach contest but was denied by the Hampton Area Chamber of Commerce. He didn’t lose the determination though and went back the following summer, only to be denied a second time. He struck out on his third attempt as well.

It wasn’t until the year 2000, when the U.S. Mint called on Grady, that he would convince the chamber members that a competition could be a great thing for the beach. The mint had commissioned Grady to sculpt a large replication of the newly designed New Hampshire state-quarter. Grady did the work at Hampton Beach and following that the director of the chamber, Bob Houle, called Grady in to talk about a competition at the beach.

"The two of us have organized it ever since," Grady said.

Grady doesn’t participate in the Hampton competition because he organizes it. He said that 12 master sculptors were invited to participate in this year’s event, including sculptors from the Netherlands and one originally from South Africa and now living in British Columbia, Canada.

Unlike a magician, Grady isn’t hesitant to talk about the tricks of his trade. Lessons are just one of several services provided by his self-named company, Professional Sand Sculpture by Greg Grady. The public can see the work Grady has done at weddings, birthday parties, and other such events on his website,

Grady said, "The trick of [sculpting] is to get it compacted." He explained that there are no hidden tricks and that only water and sand are used to create the sculptures.

He went on to explain that finding the right moisture level is the key to successful sculpting. "If it’s not too wet and not too dry…you can make something 10-feet high," he said.

He said that to protect the sculptures from the elements over their time on display that a mixture of water and Elmer’s Glue is used.

"It is a 90 percent water, 10 percent Elmer’s Glue mixture," he said, "we spray a light dusting of that so it doesn’t dry up and blow away.

He pointed out that many people think the spray is to help keep it together. Grady said the mixture sometimes isn’t used if there is rainfall over the display period. The rain, if not torrential, is actually helpful. The wind erosion is the most threatening variable. He also said the wires sticking out of the top of the completed works of art are so seagulls and other birds will land on them rather than the sculpture’s surface.

Grady said the Hampton Beach competition never ceases to excite and impress him.


One year the sculptors started and the beach was packed with families…in the pouring rain," he said.

"What blows me away is just the interest the people coming in have," he said.

He also wanted to acknowledge the talented sculptors and their ability to produce something unique every year.

"I’m blown away by the fact that every time it’s different…nobody that sculpts here does the same [every year]," he said.

He said keeping it an invitation only event ensures the artists he brings to the competition will produce new sculptures each year, and not simply one they are good at.

The sculptor’s will be competing for $10,000 in prize money. The money was donated by the Hampton Beach Village District. Other sponsors include the Hampton Area Chamber of Commerce and other state park and recreation agencies.

People can see the sculptures on display at the Marine Memorial Statue area of Hampton Beach until June 28. The sculptures are lit up at night for nighttime viewing as well.

Those wanting to vote for the People’s Choice Award winner, worth $500 to the winning sculptor, can vote on Friday, June 18 between 1 and 4 p.m.