When Silicon Valley needs a sandcastle guy, it calls Rusty Croft. Why does Silicon Valley need a sandcastle guy, you ask? Because sandcastles-as-team-building is apparently a thing in the tech business, and Google, Yahoo and Facebook all have Croft on speed dial. The 44-year-old from Carmel, CA isn’t just a Guinness World Record-holding sand sculptor, he’s also the father of three daughters who have taught him a thing or two about keeping kids entertained and engaged with nothing more than a bucket, sand, and water. We interrupted him during the Sand Sculpting World Cup (also a thing) to learn a few of his secrets.
Age 0 – 1
If your kid isn’t walking yet, you can still get them into sand, literally. “Just dig a shallow hole above high tide line, fill it with some water, and the kid’s got its own hot tub,” says Croft. “At that age, you’re mostly amusing yourself, anyway.” Or, if you fancy yourself an overachiever, build a full-on sand pool.
Age 1 – 2
If they can learn to scoop up wet sand with their hands, they can learn a basic building technique: the wiggle. Show them how to plop down a handful and then wiggle their hand back and forth before letting go. This moves the water through the sand and bonds it into a little palm-sized dome. The resulting mound can be used to create the first rung on the sand animal evolutionary ladder: the turtle. “I’ve seen the tiniest little kid make a turtle,” assures Croft. “If they can crawl, they can do it.”
As they get older, they’re going to get harder to corral on the beach, but sand has a magic property if properly applied: It can make toddlers freeze in awe. Use a one-to-one sand-to-water ratio to create the perfecting sculpting mush and bury their feet. Then shape the sand into a mermaid (or merman!), and they’ll be so blown away they’ll forget to move long enough to take some photos. If you’d rather they stand still, bury them up to the ankles and make big monster feet; you can even leave their heels exposed, so they can step into and out of them once the sand dries.
Croft admits this is unlikely to keep them calm for more than 10 minutes at a time, but that gets to the essence of playing with sand: “Don’t worry about the result, because you won’t have one. They’ll just kick it over,” he says.
Big Kid Tips
“Once you master this stuff,” warns Croft, “your days of going to the beach and relaxing are over. You’ll be hauling buckets of water and digging holes the whole time. But there’s nothing like it. The memories last forever; your kid will be like, ‘Dad, remember that stack of sand you made that was 5-feet high? You’re the coolest dad around!'”
“Once you master this stuff, your days of going to the beach and relaxing are over. You’ll be hauling buckets of water and digging holes the whole time.”
Tools You’ll Need:
All you need is two buckets — the second one ensures there’s lots of water on hand while you work: “You can shape a lot of things with just your hands; airplane wings, dragons, fish. You only need tools for a real castle,” Croft says. And by “tools,” he means whatever is in the kitchen. He brings forks and spoons for carving features into a castle wall and maybe a pastry knife or trowel if he’s making something big. The closest thing to sandcastle “tech” you’ll find is guys using straws or small tubes to blow loose grains off their sand windowsills.
- Tons of sunscreen before you get started. Once they’re sandy, they won’t let you rub their skin. And they’re going to be very sandy.
- Croft’s built sandcastles with kids all over the world and there’s one constant: “Boys want to make it and break it; girls want to make it and play with it. So, rule number 2 is, if you don’t make it, you can’t break it.”
- If you dig a hole, fill it back in so no one’s romantic walk on the beach ends in a twisted ankle.
Science Lessons For Later
The sand at beaches on rivers and lakes is actually better for sandcastles, because it’s shaped differently. Beach sand is constantly rolled around by the tide and at the granular level resembles marbles. River and lake sand is more like angular crystals and forms stronger bonds when wet. Explain this to anyone your own age at the beach and you may get sand kicked in your face.