By Max Sullivan Seacoast Online

HAMPTON — The 19th annual Hampton Beach Master Sand Sculpting Classic kicked off Thursday with sculptors from around the country and Canada competing for $15,000 in cash prizes.

Sculptors started their work in the rain Thursday, but Carl Jara, who has competed in each contest since it began in 2001, said inclement weather would not get in his way.

“You just adjust your strategy,” said Jara, who has won several of the competitions at Hampton Beach. The key, he said, is to avoid nuanced details that would easily wash out and choose designs with holes that last in a downpour.

The 10 competitors were given all day Wednesday to prepare for this weekend’s contest with what they refer to as “pound-up day,” pounding their individual piles of sand into their beginning shape.

They then were given from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday and Friday, then 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday to create their sculptures. An awards ceremony is set for 8 p.m. Saturday followed by fireworks. The sculptures will be up for viewing until June 27.

First place will receive $3,000, second place $2,500, third place $2,000, fourth place $1,500, and fifth place $1,000. All sculptors who do not place will receive $750. The winner of the “People’s Choice” award earns an additional $500 prize, the public allowed to walk up close to the sculptures and vote for their favorite.

Competitors say the contest at Hampton Beach is one of the best in the world for how it’s run as well as the quality of sand. They say the sharp grains of sand imported from a quarry in Hudson stick more easily than round grains found on Hampton Beach. Jara said sculptors have to adjust to round sand again at other competitions after leaving Hampton Beach.

“If all these sculptors went from here to coastal Texas and did a piece with beach sand, you’d see like 50 percent collapses because we come to trust this sand so much,” said Jara.

He said he imports his own sand to his home in Cleveland to practice despite living by what he called a beautiful beach nearby on Lake Erie.

Some said they were unsure what they planned for their sculptures, saying they let inspiration take them through their work as they go. Others said they would not reveal anything before the contest.

Greg Grady Jr., whose father organizes the event, said Wednesday he is working on a piece called “Ask, Seek, Knock,” depicting a man seeking a spirit.

“He’s sort of seeking the light or the spirit,” said Grady, raising his hands towards the sky. “We’ll see how it evolves.”

Grady’s father, Greg Sr., said the stakes are a little higher this year, as sculptors who do not place or produce high-quality work may not be invited back for the 20th anniversary in 2020.

“I said you gotta do a stand-up job this year,” he said. “I really want to celebrate next year, and I’m looking to up the prize money. If they don’t win or place or show this year, they’re not in next year.”

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