Meet the Sand Castle Man

By Dave Soref

Necessity as the Mother of Reinvention

When the American economy took a dive in 2008, it kicked off a severe crisis in the construction industry. People like veteran plasterer Bill Pavlacka suddenly found themselves chronically underemployed with no guarantee of a turnaround anytime soon. But instead of sitting at home and waiting for the economy to rebound, Pavlacka grabbed his tools and bucket and got to work . . . building sandcastles.

A chance phone call from an old friend got the ball rolling. The friend offered Pavlacka, a longtime sandcastle-building enthusiast, an opportunity to show up at an event, build a sandcastle, give lessons in the craft, and get paid for it.

That was all it took to convince the San Diego resident to turn his passion into his profession. “I did that one event and the following week decided to start marketing myself as the Sand Castle Man,” Pavlacka tells Calmful Living. “I came out to the Hotel del Coronado, which is a very beautiful historic hotel off the coast of San Diego, and began building sandcastles on the beach and handing out my business cards.

“I started to get work building sandcastles for weddings, corporate events and parties. Soon I had enough work that I quit plastering altogether and began just doing sandcastles.”

Dedication to the Craft

Of course, becoming the Sand Castle Man didn’t just happen overnight for Pavlacka. He’s been sculpting the sand for a long time. “I had four children, and almost any weekend that the weather was nice we’d go out to the beach and build sandcastles. I just kind of learned over time by teaching myself, and I also picked up a couple of tricks here and there from other people.”

Pavlacka was able to incorporate aspects of his outside life into the craft as well. “As a plasterer, I was manipulating plaster, stucco and cement with trowels; so it was a great help that I could use the plastering tools for building sandcastles.”

But the preparations can never get too elaborate. Pavlacka generally uses things like buckets with their bottoms cut out to form turrets and reckons that you can do just about all of the detail work with a credit card or kitchen utensils from your silverware drawer. And the raw materials never change. “When I’m building on the beach, I only use sand and water,” Pavlacka affirms.

In 2001, Pavlacka entered his first sandcastle-building contest and managed to take home first prize. “That was a good experience,” he recalls.

Follow Your Bliss

Pavlacka is philosophical about getting paid to do what he loves. “It’s a lot like most art. Ice sculpting is probably the closest thing to it. People pay for ice sculptures; people pay for sandcastles. I don’t know why people pay to have them made, but I’m glad they do.”

Either way, Pavlacka is going to be down at the beach every week making his art for his own enjoyment and because it’s therapeutic. “I can lose all sense of time when I’m building,” says the Sand Castle Man. “Hours can go by just like that. I get relaxed; I listen to my music and I just carve slowly. I’m not in a hurry. It’s quite fun and it really releases all the tension. When you’re building, you’re not thinking about bills, or traffic, or those other things in life that bother you. It’s just being at the beach, listening to music, and playing in the sand.

“My favorite part of the job is using my imagination and being able to make what I want,” adds Pavlacka. “It’s sort of like doodling on a piece of paper. I build up a pile of sand and just start carving the top. Most of them I make up as I go along.”

If other beachgoers enjoy his creations, so much the better. “Some people love them; some people couldn’t care less. But I love the smiles of children when they come up with a look of amazement on their faces. That’s pretty nice.”

Of course, unlike other sculptures, sandcastles are not meant to last forever, and Pavlacka is philosophical about that as well. “If I build them further down on the beach, I know what the tide is going to do. Generally I build them up higher where they don’t get washed away, but the wind eventually destroys them. Kids sometimes wreck them too, and sometimes even adults. It’s all part of a day at the beach.”

Learn more about the Sand Castle Man and see some of his work.