22nd Annual Sand Sculpting Contest and Unity Day Celebration

Yearly competition bringing new visitors to People's Playground

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Photo gallery

Octo-mom: Thelonia Saunders of Prospect Heights shows off her eight-armed creation, which won second place in the individual sand sculpting contest on Saturday.
Castle made of sand: First place group sculpting contest winners Team Russo dust away beach grit to reveal the beautiful castle hidden within.
Beach babe: Sand sculptor Artie Knapp calls his creation “Indian Princess.”
Hero of the beach: Rob Corrar of Coney Island gets ready to chow down on his super-sized sand sub.
Hollywood gold: Bensonhurst-born actor Vincent D’Onofrio of “Full Metal Jacket” and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” fame created a treasure chest in which to stow his millions.
Island girl: Shaina Ashley Gonzales won second place in the child sand sculpting contest with her “ASP Turtle Island.”

A stretch of Coney Island’s beach was turned into a wonderland of miniature parapets, oversized animals, and all manner of statues and statuettes as sand artisans of all stripes participated in the 22nd annual Sand Sculpting Contest and Unity Day Celebration on July 21.

Sand artists and spectators started gathering on the beach before 11 am on Saturday — a number that eventually swelled to thousands — with the beach grit visionaries taking part in one of five different creation contests: separate solo and group competitions for both children and adults, and a combined kid and grown-up tournament. The first, second, and third place winners in each division got $400, $200, and $100, respectively.

According to Judi Orlando, executive director of the Astella Development Corporation — the not-for-profit group that started the celebration in 1990 — the idea behind the event has always been to bring more people to Coney’s famed waterfront.

“It gets families out on the beach, and lets them see what Coney Island is about and use their creative spirit,” Orlando said.

And Orlando said the event has gotten more and more popular with each passing year — and the era of social media has kicked it into overdrive.

“People take photos with their cameras and I see it on Facebook, and people take videos and they go on YouTube,” said Orlando. “It’s just getting bigger and more people are coming out.”

One sure sign of the celebration’s growing profile was the arrival of Vincent D’Onofrio, the Bensonhurst-born actor best known as Detective Robert Goren on “Law & Order: Criminal Intent.” D’Onofrio brought his family with him to compete in the young-old contest — and won.

And the event has succeeded in bringing new faces to the People’s Playground, as evidenced by a team of Long Islanders who won the adult group competition with a 6-and-a-half foot-tall castle.

One of the winners, Joe Sloboda of Seaford, said he’d never set foot in Coney Island before — but he was definitely coming back.

“It was a lot of fun. People were very friendly and it was very clean, a good family event,” said Sloboda. “We plan on going even bigger and badder next year.”

Reach reporter Will Bredderman at (718) 260–4507 or e-mail him at Follow him on Twitter at
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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