How Cool

By Hannah Wallace March 31, 2004

Mark Mason called last winter from Salt Lake City, where he was shoveling-not snow, but sand-enough sand to create a giant outdoor scene with 13-foot trees and gargantuan rock climbers for the national Outdoor Retailers Show.

Mason's Team Sandtastic, based in Sarasota for the past decade, creates some 50-to-60 elaborate sandcastles each year for clients all over the world-fairs, festivals, theme parks, shopping malls, museums and conventions. They can be as simple as a corporate logo for Lipton or Coca-Cola, or as awe-inspiring as a giant Jeep Cherokee conquering a mountain for Daimler Chrysler at the International Auto Show in Germany. His fees range from $1,300 for a tabletop display to over $100,000 for the gigantic sculptures created by his full nine-person team.

Last year took him to Cape Town, South Africa, where his team carved 1,000 tons of sand-that's 40 25-ton trucks, if you're counting-into a fantastical underwater reef scene that filled a 60- by 320-foot tent. People touring along sand paths encountered an 18-foot shark and a 35-ton Neptune among other undersea creatures. The client was an event manager who was trying to draw attention to his business.

In May, Team Sandtastic heads to Maui for a corporate team- building sand sculpture clinic, a lucrative sideline business that grew from "so many clients asking, 'How can I do that?'" Employees of Hewlett Packard, Verizon and Old Navy, among many other corporate clients, learn to take risks, develop leadership, set strategic goals and exercise their creativity, "all cleverly disguised as fun," Mason says.

The Sarasota sandman is a champion; in 1998, he earned the Guinness Word Record for the tallest sandcastle ever hand-built, at 28 feet, 7 1/4 inches. And Mason says the job is as fun as it looks. "But there are pros and cons. When you say it's a labor of love, everybody hears the word 'love,' but they don't hear the word 'labor'-on the first day of every project we shovel and tamp 30 tons of sand by lunch."

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