Sand dollars: Locals compete for cash at annual Coney sand-sculpting contest

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A day at the beach: Harris Gertz and his daughter, Summer, sculpted “the Pyramid of the Sun” at the Coney Island Sand Sculpting Contest.
Summer fun: Locals watched a sculptor create an homage to Coney Island’s beloved Luna Park.
Fishy business: Darren and Gina Rock posed with their fish sand sculpture.
A song in the sand: Winners of the group adult category Kathy Nichols, Rachel Luca, and Jim Nichols created a sculpture honoring the Mills Brothers’ “Coney Island Washboard.”
Father and daughter: Gina Rock showed off the cash she won for her first prize-winning fish sculpture that she built with her dad, Darren.

Around 100 Brooklynites headed to Coney Island beach for the neighborhood’s 28th-annual sand-sculpting contest on Aug. 18.

One local family who has attended the event for the past six years said that they enjoyed themselves even though they didn’t take home a prize for their sand sculpture of a clam holding a pearl.

“We didn’t win, but we had a great time,” said Coney Islander Alma Johnson. “Every year the family comes out.”

The contest was more about tradition than winning for her family, according to Johnson, who said her clan began participating in the event years ago to honor the memory of her beach-loving daughter, Akira, who drowned in the waters when she got caught in a rip current in 2008, when she was 10-years-old.

“She loved the beach and the ocean. The last thing she said was, ‘I’m going back to be a mermaid,’ and she went into the water,” Johnson said. “So, the first year that we went [to the sand-sculpting contest], we made a little mermaid.”

Other families also used the contest as a bonding opportunity — 11-year-old Summer Gertz trekked to the beach with her father, Harris, and the pair spent an hour-and-a-half crafting a meticulously straight-edged pyramid, which the elder Gertz said proved to be harder to sculpt than he anticipated.

“I thought it was something we could do with our hands and minimal talent — it’s a simple shape, but it’s pretty hard to get it straight,” he said.

Eight-year-old Gina Rock and her father, Darren, also had a dad-and-daughter day out at the contest, where they built a fish sculpture big enough for Gina to sit inside, according to her father.

“The mouth was hard to do — her big idea was to make a mouth that someone could go into,” said the elder Rock, who lives in Queens.

The pair had to rebuild the mouth four times because it kept collapsing, according to poppa Rock, but they were rewarded for their efforts. The pair clinched the top prize in the family category, and Gina is now contemplating whether to spend or save her $250 prize money, according to her father.

“I’m trying to convince her to open a bank account,” he said.

The Rocks were one of the contest’s four winners in categories that included family, individual adult, group adult, and people’s choice, each of whom took home a $250 cash prize doled out by the Alliance for Coney Island, Brooklyn Community Services, and Astella Development Corporation, which sponsored the event along with the Department of Parks and Recreation.

Reach reporter Julianne McShane at (718) 260–2523 or by e-mail at Follow her on Twitter @juliannemcshane.
Updated 9:20 am, August 22, 2018
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