Sand castles can put Federal Way on the world stage

Federal Way resident Michael Velling is shown working on a sand castle. Check out photos of his work online at - Courtesy photo
Federal Way resident Michael Velling is shown working on a sand castle. Check out photos of his work online at
— image credit: Courtesy photo

If everything goes as planned, fall 2010 will bring several breathtaking castles — made of sand — to Federal Way.

Bob Hitchcock of Northeast Tacoma and Doc Reiss of Port Angeles have proposed the city become the new host of the World Championship of Sand Sculpture competition. The attraction would bring tourists' dollars to Federal Way and replace the city's now-defunct Festival Days.

"This is taking the place of Festival Days and taking it to the next level," said Hitchcock, who helped organize the festival in past years.

The World Championship of Sand Sculpture competition has taken place in Harrison Hot Springs, British Columbia, for the past 19 years. Founders Bob and Karen Bell feel the event has outgrown the B.C. spot and needs a new, more metropolitan home. Hitchcock and Reiss took over operations.

The Federal Way event is estimated to cost about $460,000, and revenue potential is around $740,000, according to a Sept. 15 city council agenda bill. Once the attraction is established, it could bring an estimated 80,000 tourists to the city, according to the bill. Attendees would pay to see the championship, and would naturally drop some extra cash at local food establishments and hotels.

"It draws a lot of the cultures together for a common theme," Hitchcock said.

Start-up costs are a bit problematic. Much of the revenue will be seen toward the end of the event, leaving expenditures to be paid before revenue starts rolling in. Hitchcock has asked the city for help. He is requesting $185,000 to jump-start the monthlong attraction.

International attraction

As proposed, the event will run Sept. 7 through Oct. 2 on the vacant land south of Truman High School, 31455 28th Ave. S. Between 30 and 40 international sculptors are expected to arrive for Federal Way's competition, Hitchcock said. Artists from the United States, Latvia, Switzerland, Korea, Russia, Germany, England, Japan and China have been contacted, said Reiss, who helps operate a smaller annual sand sculpting event in Port Angeles.

"These are all folks that are wanting to come to Federal Way," he said.

The opening and ending week will likely feature a sculpture display. The second and third weeks will bring solo, duo and sculpting teams.

"It's one of the best spectator sports you've ever seen," Reiss said. "You watch and don't know what's going to happen until you see it."

Each individual sculptor will have access to approximately 10 yards of sand, Reiss said. Sand sculptors pile the sand into forms and sculpt from the top down. The sport requires a great deal of physical strength, he said.

"It's something that is not only good for the whole family, but it brings something out inside you that makes you feel like a kid," Reiss said. "It makes you giggle. It makes you go 'wow.'"

Local connection

Championship-winning sand sculptor Michael Velling of Federal Way has competed as a sand castle sculptor for 20 years. He's worked and won as a solo, duos and team competitor at the world championship. He won in his respective categories in 1991, 1993, 1999, 2001 and 2008. Velling said he did not initially believe the news when he heard the World Championship of Sand Sculpture competition has a good chance of relocating to Federal Way.

"It's wonderful," he said. "It felt too good to be real."

As planned, the artists will only be able to compete in Federal Way's World Championship if they qualify in another contest that has adopted judging criteria proposed by Reiss and Hitchcock. Sand sculpting judging criteria and standards currently do not exist, Hitchcock said.

"This is the next step to being a grand master champion of the world," he said.

On Sept. 15, the council voted in support of the event and requested the Lodging Tax Advisory Committee to issue a recommended level of financial support, to come from lodging tax revenues, for the 2010 event. The committee is unsure whether it will be able to meet Hitchcock's request of $185,000. Funding around $50,000 is more likely, according to a Sept. 15 city council agenda bill.

The event's planning will continue even if the city is not able to spare the full amount, Hitchcock said.

"I think it's still viable," he said.

Check it out

• Learn more about the World Championships of Sand Sculpture by visiting

• Learn more about artist Michael Velling by visiting

We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus

Read the Oct 21
Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Browse the archives.

Friends to Follow

View All Updates