Keys to the sandcastle of your dreams

Water and sand. The basic ingredients of a sandcastle couldn’t be simpler.

But the secret to a building a spectacular sandcastle — say, one capable of winning this month’s Leap’s 29th Annual Sandcastle Contest at Ocean Beach — isn’t nearly as easy as it sounds.

Team leaders, big dreamers and grunt labor all gathered at Ocean Beach recently to get their feet wet in the fine art of sandcastle construction. Architects, engineers and even a few kids got some practice for the main event, coming up Saturday, Oct. 20.

One of San Francisco’s most venerated beach events, Leap’s Sandcastle Contest is all about kids. And not just the hundreds who will help build the sandcastles.

Leap — the event’s nonprofit organizer — is a heroic provider of art education in public schools, opening doors and minds for thousands of students in music, dance, theater and the visual arts.

Julie McDonald, Leap’s executive director, told SFBay kids won’t just be building sandcastles, they’ll be building confidence:

“This is an exercise which helps teams learn how to build sandcastles. It helps build confidence by starting on a smaller scale.”

The Sandcastle Contest is Leap’s primary fundraising vehicle. A record 28 teams will each raise a minimum of $2,500 to help fund Leap’s annual activities. Last year’s contest raised more than $200,000 for the organization.

Like most taking part on the sunny Saturday afternoon,  parent Michael Ma was wet, sandy and having a blast on the beach with his two kids. Ma was also preparing for his ninth year as a Sandcastle team leader, working with the team from Francis Scott Key Elementary:

“A lot of the kids, especially the ones in The City, don’t even get the opportunity to come to the beach. These are fourth or fifth graders in San Francisco. So it’s great to give them a chance to be creative, work with the sand, do things different and work together as a team.”

Local construction and engineering firms are providing support for teams from schools across San Francisco and the Bay Area.

Santiago Harris, senior project manager with URS Corporation and a first-year team leader for Lawton School’s team, has lots of experience working with construction, but not so much with sand:

“I love working with sand. It’s much easier. It’s funny, as an adult, you start out a little bit skeptical. Then, your inner child comes out, and after a while, you’re totally into it. I could work on it all day.”

Sylvester Kwofie, operations assistant with McCarthy Building Companies, sits on the Leap Sandcastle committee and was preparing advice for his Lakeshore Elementary team:

“What you want is a one-to-three ratio of water to sand. You create a big mound, then start carving at it. We try to teach people not to add sand after they start carving, because it doesn’t work.”

The Leap Sandcastle contest will be held next Saturday, Oct. 20 starting at 10 a.m. on the north end of Ocean Beach near the Cliff House. Admission is free, with sandcastles, food trucks, live drumming and entertainment by Drum for Life will be keeping things lively until the winner is announced at 3 p.m.