Sandcastles soak up Ocean Beach spotlight

A few moments after 2:30 p.m. Saturday afternoon, and just slightly behind schedule, the wail of an air horn pierced whispers of fog fighting to form above the Ocean Beach waterline.

Traditionally, the horn signals “shovels up,” the official end of the lumping, sculpting and massaging of mounds of sand and sea water literally at the center of Leap Arts in Education’s Ocean Beach sandcastle contest.

But this year’s horn also heralded the end of an era, the final sandcastle contest overseen by Leap Executive Director Julie McDonald, who announced this year’s 31st annual event would be her last after 10 years at the helm of the San Francisco-based nonprofit.

In between McDonald tracking down ‘lost parents’ for wayward kids and sandwiches for hungry judges, she told SFBay:

“When will I ever have a job this cool, getting to coordinate this huge sandcastle contest? The people I work with are so giving, so sweet, they care about the kids, the arts and education so much, I’m going to miss them all a lot.”

McDonald hands over Leap, its annual sandcastle contest, and its spectrum of arts education programs for Bay Area elementary school students to incoming executive director Jill Dineen, who joins leap from Classroom Central in Charlotte, N.C.

McDonald told SFBay the warmest memories from 10 years at Leap aren’t necessarily from Ocean Beach:

“I’m really going to miss being in the classroom. Ever since I started with LEAP, if I see a kindergartener dancing, it just makes me cry.”

This year’s annual migration of brightly-shirted school kids, teachers, volunteers and parents to the north end of Ocean Beach brought together 25 teams from local schools with architecture and construction firms who do business in the Bay Area.

Photos by Marlene Sanchez/SFBay

Hundreds of wet, sandy kids from elementary schools in San Francisco and across the Bay Area helped pile wet sand into shapes evoking their favorite movie memories. As nine-year-olds, these seemed to consist largely of Minions and Star Wars.

A panel of five judges selected as this year’s grand prize winner a school-attacking monster from Chinatown’s John Yehall Elementary, a team supported by San Francisco’s Architectural Resources Group, Coffman Engineers, Inc. of Oakland, and Marchetti Group in South San Francisco.

Bayview-Hunters Point filmmaker Kevin Epps joined the judges’ panel for the first time this year. Epps told SFBay:

“Just hearing the back stories of how these kids got here, this translates to life. It’s a great building block. I’m in the hood and on the ground. and I know giving these kids some hope goes a long way.”

Supervisor Eric Mar represents the area surrounding Ocean Beach and participated as a judge for the first time this year. Mar told SFBay:

“I love movies, and I see lightbulbs going off in people’s heads, young and old. [This event] shows creativity with different firms working together with kids to inspire them in one of the most beautiful places in The City.”

Mar added:

“I hope [the kids] feel something about being stewards of the environment and keeping Ocean Beach beautiful for future generations. I hope that’s what they take away besides just being creative and helping to build things: Making The City better.”