Click photo to enlarge
The Urban Gorillas team of Alameda and Oakland participate with their sculpture "Fallen Ionic Capital" in Alameda's 46th annual Sand Castle and Sand Sculpture Contest at Crown Memorial State Beach in Alameda, Calif., on Saturday, June 9, 2012.

So there you are, lounging on the beach. Waves lap a gentle rhythm. Ultraviolet rays deflect off your Coppertone UltraGuard SPF 100 epidermal armor and back into the void of the blue.

You, blissfully devoid of activities and ambition, have nothing better to do but wiggle your toes in the sand, perhaps pretending they're little stubby people, intrepid explorers wandering -- naked -- through Saharan dunes on a quest for the lost city of, oh, say Sandyland because that's the best you can come up with without thinking too hard, which would hurt. You sip the lemonade in your plastic Peet's travel mug and close your eyes.

Oh, slacking summer slothfulness! There's sand to be had. Sand, sand all around and not a castle made. Instead, a shore full of granular goodness goes wasted when it could be manipulated into ephemeral masterpieces, castles and kingdoms or even various iterations of Jabba the Hutt, here one day then wiped off the face of the earth like the shake of some cosmic Etch A Sketch.

Such stunning, if temporary, creations rose to the surface of Alameda's Crown Beach a couple of weekends ago at the 47th annual Sand Castle and Sand Sculpture Contest. Grain by grain, what began as amorphous blobs took shape at the hands of very soggy people wielding masonry trowels, cheese slicers and dental tools. Soon there were curvaceous mermaids, a cat sprawled out in mid-pounce, crabs, turtles, a giant octopus, an Oakland A's logo, a Salvador Dali-style clock melting in the sun and even a hedgehog family, their backs fully spiked like Guy Fieri's hair.

Shifting sands

A couple years back, some friends and I entered the Alameda contest, attempting to create a large rubber duck, which, thanks to a distinct lack of structural integrity and an abundance of really bad carving techniques, ended up looking more like a chicken. We called him Chuck. Chuck, the Chicken of the Sea. At no time was Chuck in any danger of winning the contest, so we abandoned him even before the judging began. He was eventually, mercifully, reclaimed by the bay.

Our effort was a boatload of fun, but only recently have I learned the scope of sand sculpture in this world. Oh, I knew there were competitions, like the one at Drakes Beach out on Point Reyes every Labor Day weekend, or the annual one at Ocean Beach held in October -- this year's theme is, aptly, "Masterpieces in Sand," and contestants are supposed to find inspiration from a work of art from any period in history, and any art form, "from cave paintings to Greek tragedies to break dancing."

But who knew there were world competitions, teams of professional sand sculptors and people who even do this for pay for weddings, movie premieres or corporate events, creating towering, intricate constructions?

And there's "gear" galore. Yes, you can dig through your junk drawers and use stuff like old funnels, kitchen utensils, putty knives, trowels and even old paintbrushes (for smoothing unsightly knife marks). But you can also go wacka-wacka with carving implements such as the "complete deluxe bundle" for $114 from Sons of the Beach. There are special tools for smooth, rounded columns; loop tools for scallops; two sizes of square tools for doors and lettering; arrowhead tools for surface detail such as bricks and rocks; pastry knives with offset handles and squared-off ends; rubber tubing for blowing away stray sand.

A new gadget out this year is the Willysphere, created by Dutch sand sculptor and inventor Wilfred Stijger, which enables you to make big orbs. Why you would need to, I do not know.

Soaring sculptures

For those who do just want to dream away the hours on a sandy beach, barely finding the strength to cast a lazy glance at a nearby sandy palace, for them the best option might be to hire a "sand team" such as Archisand, a professional group of sand sculptors out of Southern California formed by a bunch of architects and artists in 1989. Or the Sand Sculpture Company, which has done hundreds of sculptures around the world and holds seven Guinness records, including one in 2008 in Tacoma, Wash., for the tallest hand-shoveled, hand-carved sand castle -- it was nearly 35 feet high and completed in 92 hours.

So build, people. Or hire someone to do it. Just know, if you build it, the waves will come or maybe a big beach bully or a cosmic Etch A Sketch and will kick sand in your face and wipe it away. But that's not all bad. Then you can go lounge on the beach and wiggle your little toe people in peace.

Contact Angela Hill at ahill@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow her at Twitter.com/giveemhill.