Coney Island Sand Sculpting Contest nixed due to rise in COVID-19 cases

sand sculpture
A 2019 photo from the sand sculpture depicts a monster trapped behind bars.
Photo by Derrick Watterson

Beach bummer!

Organizers of the annual Coney Island Sand Sculpting Contest have put the kibosh on this year’s milestone competition, citing a current rise in cases of the Delta variant and the “high level of touch-points” in the contest.

“Due to the current rising number of cases of the Delta Variant of COVID-19 and the high level of touch-points in the contest, the Alliance for Coney Island and Brooklyn Community Services are regretfully announcing the postponement of the coveted event until the summer of 2022,” the groups said in an Aug. 10 statement. “Both organizations look forward to hosting a free fun-filled event for all to enjoy next year.”

“The decision was sort of two-fold,” said Alliance Executive Director Alexandra Silversmith. “We talked about it a few months ago with Brooklyn Community Services and said, ‘We’ll see where the world is.’ Now, Delta cases are arriving and it just feels a little bit wrong to put people together like this, mostly because of the touch-points. Similarly, we didn’t have ample time to put together a great event and make sure we had the proper precautions in place.”

The last sculpt-off took place in August, 2019, marking the event’s 29th competition — something, Silversmith said, organizers took into account as they prepare for their 30th anniversary.

“We want to focus on putting together a really good event for next year, which hopefully will be the best Sand Sculpting Contest yet,” she told Brooklyn Paper, calling the gathering “a gem of the summer.”

Each year, artists hit the sand off the Riegelmann Boardwalk between W. 10th and W. 12th streets to create their gritty masterpieces — each more different and outlandish than the other. The most recent iteration included a statue of an outstretched woman face-down on the ground, which won in the individual adult category, and an intricate castle decorated with flowers and sand dye, which took home best statue by a group of adults.

Winners of the three categories — family, adult group, and individual — each take home various prizes, but for many sculptors, the joy doesn’t come from placing.

“My favorite part was seeing the competition,” participant John Sanders told Brooklyn Paper in 2019. That summer, the three-time competitor — a construction worker and poet from Bushwick — built a sand diorama of the 7 train riding past Queens’ Citi Field, home of the New York Mets.

Photo by Derrick Watterson

And every year feels hotter than ever, Silversmith joked Wednesday.

“It’s funny because it does seem like every time we host this event it’s the hottest week of the summer — which would’ve been this week and, of course, it’s the hottest week,” she said.

The news comes as the peninsula’s amusement district continues to welcome visitors after its lost summer of 2020, and as arts non-profit Coney Island USA gears up for the triumphant return of the Mermaid Parade. The 39th rendition of the nautical arts festival is set to take over the People’s Playground on Sunday, Sept. 12 after bringing the event online in 2020 due to the coronavirus.

It also comes as COVID-19 cases continue to surge across the country and, notably, in southern Brooklyn.

The most recent city testing data shows the 11224 zip code — comprising Brighton Beach, Coney Island, and Seagate — boasts a seven-day COVID-19 infection rate of 5.12 percent from Aug. 2 and Aug. 8, when the most recent data is available. Last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a shift in methodology when it comes to tracking the spread of COVID-19. During an Aug. 4 briefing, he said the Health Department would be moving away from tracking seven-day positivity rates because of a lack of accurate data.

Rather than post the 7-day positivity rate by neighborhood on its site, the city’s Health Department listed case averages for general areas per 100,000 residents. At the top of the list for Brooklyn is Coney’s zip code, which saw 167 new cases per 100,000 people from Aug. 2 through Aug. 8. Meanwhile, less than half of the area’s residents — 45.35 percent — were fully vaccinated as of Aug. 8, per city data.

While it remains unclear if the 2021 Mermaid Parade will march on as planned (Zigun told Brooklyn Paper to check back next week for a clearer answer), in the meantime, Silversmith said, she and the Alliance will continue to promote safe tourism in Coney Island — and are looking ahead to next year.

“We’re sad to not host it again but we really look forward to next year being spectacular,” she said.