On Saturday afternoon, about 300 people took two hours out of their busy day of splashing in the water, lounging, barbecuing and making sure the kids were safely having fun to build sand castles for the annual Portage Lakes Fireworks Sand Castle Building contest.
The contest was sponsored by the Portage Lakes Fireworks Association, which presents the annual fireworks show and featured two categories — one especially for kids, where the grand prize was a medal for each young sand construction worker, and an adult/family category featuring cash prizes of $200 for first place, $100 for second, $50 for third and $25 for fourth.
Though the beach was packed with post-Independence Day revelers, each of the 55 teams — combining for a total of around 300 contestants — managed to carve out their own workspace to build their moist masterpieces.
Rick Wike of Green along with daughters Malori, 12, and Krista, 10, and nephew Ryan, 12, and niece Jenna, 10, were veterans, having won the contest in 2013 with a large smiling sun and placing second the two previous years.
For 2014, the extended Wike clan decided to follow the girls’ inspiration and built a surprisingly detailed “monster octopus” complete with all eight legs (“We had to count them about 20 times,” Wike said), suction cups, bulbous eyeballs and a even red tint to its “skin.”
“It’s been a fun time, every year. The final minutes really matter,” Wike said as he used a trowel to make sure all the edges were solid. One of the girls carefully scratched “2014” into the sand near their octopus.
“It’s two hours and then we goof off the rest of the day,” he said as beachcombers walked by and admired the family’s work.
In other spots near the water, kids carefully built a large mama and baby sea turtle, another crew constructed what appeared to be a starfish with a tuft of seaweed for hair, and there were two mermaids.
One was made completely out of sand with seaweed as her tail, and another featured an actual little girl half buried in the sand, patiently waiting for the judges to come around.
Several yards down the beach, past the Olaf, the sandman version of the popular snowman character from the film Frozen, and a shark with a human leg sticking out of its mouth, was the 10-member Brown and Bennett crew. They had just finished building a dragon in repose in front of the Browns’ boat floating nearby at the shore.
The dragon, named Toothless, spewed smoke out of his nostrils. It was designed by young group member Luciano Cornacchione of Akron and it was the first time either the Bennetts or the Browns had entered the contest.
“Just seemed like a fun thing for the family to do,” Chris Bennett said.
Sean Fremon has been sand castle contest coordinator for the past five years and says the event’s purpose is simply to bring a bunch of friends and family members together to have some fun and win a little bit of cash.
“[The sand castles] look really good and the kids come up and work real hard and it’s just fun,” Fremon said.
After the allotted 90 minutes of building time, Fremon and his fellow judge toured the works. There was some lengthy consideration before Toothless the Dragon was named $100 winner with the Wikes’ octopus coming in second and the leg-eating shark third. For the kids, the mermaid took the top spot followed by Olaf the sandman and the pair of turtles.
The winners collected their prizes, then dispersed to enjoy the rest of their Fifth of July.