The Sandcastle Architect

Oh, yes, there’s a person who makes sandcastles for a living, so you don’t have to.

Greg LeBon plays in the sand for a living. It might sound like a dream job, toiling near the Pacific Ocean. But as a professional sandcastle architect, he designs structures and sculptures that typically only have a lifespan of a couple of days. Yet, day after day, the founder of Laguna Hills company Archisand picks up his pails and fancy shovels and starts all over again. LeBon dishes on how to engineer the beach.

How did you get this cool job designing sandcastles?

In college, I built sandcastles for fun and then joined Sand Sculptors International, which is in Los Angeles. SSI is a sand sculpture-building company much like Archisand. I traveled with SSI teams to competitions in Japan, Florida, and Canada. I always call that my “sandcastle camp” period: I learned by doing. I worked for them part-time. After college, I went into real estate. In 1989, I started Archisand. But I still work as an architect developing hotels.

For the record, we would love for you to build a sand hotel, much like the ice hotels in Sweden. So people hire you to build sandcastles? Like lazy parents or…?

Hah! Mostly brands use it for guerrilla marketing. The idea is that people walk by the sandcastle, take a photo, and share on Facebook. Word spreads. When we started, we built eight to ten a year. Now it’s 40 to 60. We also do team-building events. We’ve done work with YouTube, Google, and Hulu. Marriage proposals are common. Also, fancy sandcastles for weddings.

Is it just you?

We have 14 contractors that we hire. They are in all sorts of professions, from the pet products industry to competitive weight lifting. Sand-sculpting is a side gig.

What’s the hardest part of building a sandcastle?

For me, discipline. You really have to take time to soak and pack the sand. Preparation and patience are the most important. We always start with a sketch.

Tools you bring?

We use landscape compactors from Home Depot (feet work just as well); buckets in a range of sizes; shovels; a handheld spray bottle (to keep the sand from drying out in the sun); masonry trowels; and palette knives for carving and decorating.

What’s the largest sandcastle you’ve built? 

We’ve used trash cans as buckets before and have built sandcastles that typically cost $20,000 to $40,000. We’ve also been in Guinness World Records for a castle that was 70 feet tall and 400 feet long. Typically, we build structures that are four- to ten-feet tall. Those use between five and 15 tons of sand.

Castle Engagement
Ready to get sandy? 
Here are a few tips courtesy of LeBon.

1. Pack a few buckets, shovels, and a spray bottle.

2. Choose a beach with fine-grain sand (the almost microscopic kind). The sand must be wet, but not so wet that it can’t hold a shape. Main Beach in Laguna is a good spot.

3. Choose your spot to build. If you really want to go big, you’ll  want to do research on the tides beforehand. Keep out of reach.

4. Build your foundation. Pour a thick bottom layer of the sand (think of it like cement) in the spot you will build. 

5. Use your feet or the back of a shovel to compact the sand. Give it a real whack. This is the house’s foundation. It needs to be solid.

6. Cut the bottom out of one of the buckets. Flip it over, like you would normally. Now, there’s an opening at both ends. This is your building bucket.

7. Fill it with a layer of sand, then a bit of water. Repeat until the bucket is full of wet sand. It’s like a layered cake.

8. Remove the bucket slowly and carefully. You’ll be able to tell if your sand is structurally sound.

9. Once the sand is in place, you can start sculpting. Always work from the top down. If you do it from the bottom up, sand tends to fall and crumble what you were working on near the bottom.

10. Take a photo!

Youtube team building workshop photo courtesy of Archisand
All photos courtesy of Archisand

For more information on proper tools and techniques, visit Archisand’s advice page.