CANNON BEACH — Thousands came out on Saturday to watch people of all ages transform piles of sand into intricately-sculpted flying saucers, Egyptian pyramids and, of course, the humble but classic sandcastle.
The Sandcastle Contest, now closing the chapter on its 54th year, began in 1964 as a way to boost spirits after a tsunami hit the Oregon Coast. The contest was sandwiched in between the annual Sandcastle Parade on Friday and a 5K fun run on Sunday.
About 32 teams from across the country competed — a number consistent with last year but lower than the average of 50 the contest expects. Debbie Nelson, the chief organizer, attributes the low number to the fact the contest fell on the same weekend as many school graduations and the Grand Floral Parade in Portland.
As the day unfolded, crowds ebbed and flowed on and off the beach as the weather alternated from bright sun to epic rain. Despite the chaotic weather, builders remained steadfast, peeling and putting on layers of rain gear as they crafted.
One of those teams was the Jessop family, a Masters Division team who in their ninth year is considered to be one of the Sandcastle Contest’s longest-running competitors. The team out of Monmouth placed third this year with a full-on miniature golf course replica called “The Sand Trap,” with windmill structures stacking up past 6 feet tall.
But the Jessop’s success at competitive sand sculpting is rooted in a humble beginning.
“I just wanted something to do with my kids when they were little,” Yvonne Jessop said.
As the mother of five, Jessop found the contest on the internet and decided to sign the family up.
“I remember thinking, ‘We can build a sandcastle,’” she said, “meanwhile having no idea – none at all – of what these kind of sandcastles looked like.”
In their first year competing in the large group division, the family was floored by what they saw from other teams. So they trained, bought books, studied the tools other teams used and eventually geared up to compete in the Masters Division three years later.
The day of competition was 42 degrees and raining, causing everything they made to slump and melt. Their spirits, however, remained unaffected.
“I didn’t know if my kids would ever want to try that again,” Jessop said. “But when we got back to camp, they said, ‘What are we going to make next year?’”
And the kids — now mostly in their 20s — have kept asking that question as they each have made an annual pilgrimage to Cannon Beach to compete.
Jonathan Jessop, who started building at 14, is now 25 and flies in from Hawaii each year for the contest.
“To me, this means family. It’s not about winning, it’s about the fun,” Jonathan Jessop said. “It’s definitely not for the warm sunny beaches. Hawaii has plenty of those.”
As the kids have grown, so has the team as new in-laws and girlfriends are roped into the family tradition. No matter how they place, Yvonne Jessop said after nine years of competition the family has received something greater.
“(Competing) has made us work together better than anything else. Like any team, there’s conflict. But when it comes all together in the end, it’s good,” she said. “It’s really changed the dynamic of the family. As the kids have grown, we’ve learned how to communicate and solve problems differently than we would have otherwise.”