Julian Miller is the founder of the Hawaii Sand Festival.

The Sand Man Cometh

And so does the annual Hawaii Sand Castle Festival and Art Contest at Hanalei Bay Saturday. It's the brainchild of Julian Miller, who expects up to 300 participants | COCO ZICKOS photo

And so does the annual Hawaii Sand Castle Festival and Art Contest at Hanalei Bay Saturday. It’s the brainchild of Julian Miller, who expects up to 300 participants | COCO ZICKOS photo

And so does the annual Hawaii Sand Castle Festival and Art Contest at Hanalei Bay Saturday. It’s the brainchild of Julian Miller, who expects up to 300 participants

Grab a bucket and shovel and let your imagination run wild Saturday (Aug. 8) from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at this year’s Hawaii Sand Castle Festival and Art Contest. You’re bound to be in good company — mermaids, turtles, dragons and dolphins are among the many clever creations alongside traditional and awe-inspiring sand castles that take over Hanalei Bay beach each summer during this fun competition.

This is the fifth year for the sand castle and sculpture festival, and it would never have made it this far without one North Shore resident’s resilience.

“It’s my contribution to society,” says Julian Miller, who voluntarily organizes the fest every year.

He had to cut through plenty of red tape and resistance to launch the festival its inaugural year. For starters, it took approximately 30 phone calls to state departments just to determine how to obtain a permit for the event, and even after finally reaching the right person, he recalls the initial response: “Absolutely not.”

Jeff Peterson, one of the organizers of the event, crafts a spectacularly detailed sand castle during last year's contest

Jeff Peterson, one of the organizers of the event, crafts a spectacularly detailed sand castle during last year’s contest

Careful consideration and Miller’s persistence, however, ultimately awarded him a green light.

But the work didn’t stop there. Despite his tireless determination to make it happen, he was worried that no one would even show up for the first contest in 2010. He had nothing to worry about, though, because about 200 people arrived that first year — a number that has since grown to some 300 — ready to build sand castles and sculptures

“Everybody’s happy out there, and it’s extraordinary to see the number of people who come to drag sand around,” he says.

The idea came to Miller while walking along Hanalei Bay, wondering out loud why Kauai didn’t offer any sand castle contests. Finally, someone suggested he organize one himself.

“I think maybe I said it once or twice too often to the person who would be walking with me,” he jokes. “I thought, ‘Wow, I’m that guy who’s always complaining but doesn’t do anything.'”

The stars aligned accordingly. During one of his walks, Miller happened to come upon expert sand sculptor Jeff Peterson building a sand castle

— something, Miller notes, is unusual to see on Kauai. Miller introduced himself and ended up asking Peterson of Layton Construction to partner with him and help create the festival “because I didn’t know anything about sand castles in actuality,” admits Miller.

Creatures of all shapes and sizes are bound to show up this weekend on Hanalei Bay beach

Creatures of all shapes and sizes are bound to show up this weekend on Hanalei Bay beach

He may not have been an expert at the time, but now Miller has become the “go-to” guy when it comes to sand castles. He professionally creates them for businesses and even travels to neighbor islands to work on projects.

He says it is mostly a matter of having the right kind of sand to work with – it turns out that Hanalei is one of the best places to build sand sculptures because of the river sediment that helps bond the particles together.

“You just put in water and stamp on the sand while it’s in a bottomless bucket, and it lines up the grains structurally,” he explains, “so, that way, it stands up.” Before becoming a sand castle-building expert, Miller worked for the nonprofit Transcendental Meditation for two decades and taught meditation to people around the world. He moved to Kauai in 1998 from California and founded a software company called Plum Amazing. He has never regretted moving to the Garden Isle and delights in being able to do something so big for the community.

“It feels good to see how much the community’s developed in sand-castle building,” he says.
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Miller has enjoyed watching keiki grow from making simple turtles in the sand to carving out elaborate submarines. His goal is to help these individuals who become contest winners go on to compete in the world championship.

“They’ve gotten really good,” he says. All levels and ages are invited to participate in the contest. Buckets and shovels will be available for use, but everyone is encouraged to bring their own tools and gear.

“The most rewarding part is when it’s over; when you’re dragging all the stuff away, it feels good to have it done,” says Miller with a laugh.

Visit hawaiisandcastle.com for more information.

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