Sleight of sand! Beach-sculptors carve up Coney shores

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Photo gallery

Nuts about Dunkin’: Matthew Deibert’s ode to Dunkin Donuts.
Miss Empire State: Katherine Cooksey, Miss New York World, was one of the judges.
Founding Fathers: Gilbert Ortega’s Mount Rushmore of sand.
Big Winners: Frank Russo and Joseph Sloboda’s Harry Potter castle entry won first place in the adult category.

It was a sandcastle to the sky.

The sandy beaches of Coney Island looked more like an art gallery on Aug. 15 during the 25th annual Sand Sculpture Contest, with about 100 participants expressing their creativity through the simplest and most natural of mediums: sand and water. “Harry Potter’s Castle,” an eight- or nine-foot tall castle, took the top spot in the adults category. The two men behind the structure have won the contest three out of the last four years, including a year ago, and they attribute their success to their opponents’ fear of heights.

“We go for extreme height,” said Joseph Sloboda, who built the structure with his cousin, Frank Russo. “That’s our wow factor. We like to challenge ourselves, but some of the other entrants, they’re afraid to build big.”

Sloboda said that building tall castles isn’t just a challenge for the cousins — it’s a necessity because of their lack of sculpting ability.

“For whatever reason, we can’t sculpt,” Sloboda said. “But we can achieve height.”

Their experience as professional contractors helps them figure out how to keep their structures standing, but it has also helped them develop tools and equipment that aid in the building process. Russo and Sloboda have taken token tools from the hardware store and modified them for use in sandcastle construction.

“We’ve built tools out of electric conduit,” said Sloboda. “We’ve put nails on the end of wooden boards that we use for detailing and etching.”

Sloboda and Russo have been building sandcastles for more than 20 years, improving their skills throughout many family trips to the beach. They’ve taught their kids some tricks of the trade, but their favorite part of the activity is that it makes them feel young, too.

“It’s about our friendship as cousins,” Sloboda said. “It takes us back to when we were kids.”

Reach reporter Eric Faynberg at (718) 260–2508 or by e-mail at Follow him on Twitter @ericfaynberg.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

John Wasserman from Prospect Heights says:
I'm not sure how this Gilbert Ortega character was able to grow these tiny trees (and IN sand for that matter) in such a small time frame, but I suspect foul play here. I hate to rain on the parade, but I gave ample time and refrained from comment all the way up until now.
You're looking at a somewhat baffled John Wasserman here.
John Wasserman
Aug. 18, 2015, 3:29 pm

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