Excerpted from Carmel Magazine

If you have ever taken a philosophy course, you might remember studying something called the “paradox of the heap.” Essentially, it is this: If five thousand grains of sand constitute a heap of sand, then certainly it is still considered a heap when you subtract only one grain. But if you continue that logic, eventually you’ll have subtracted your way to one remaining grain of sand. Must we still call that a heap?

Trippy, huh?

This brings to mind Carmel’s Great Sandcastle Contest every September, during which Carmel Beach is transformed into a place where heaps become masterworks, where participants from Pebble Beach to Palo Alto turn grains of sand into grand designs.

It has been described as “one of the few contests in the country in which judges go barefoot and prized work disappears in less than 24 hours.” The contest’s awards reflect the tongue-in-cheek tone of the event, including prizes for the best creation by children and, well, the most creative means of bribing judges (everything from chocolate-covered strawberries to chardonnay). In the end, something imaginative and spectacular wins the coveted Golden Shovel award.

Strolling the beach on an early autumn morning, past the assorted blankets and umbrellas and portable barbecues and scampering dogs, you will appreciate the sculpted sand. And you will marvel at the sculptors. And the volunteers. And the couples and families walking hand-in-hand, having opted to spend a morning immersed in a stretch of whimsy alongside the waves.

Just as it takes millions of grains of sand to create a castle, it takes hundreds of people to turn a silly event into a 57-year-old local tradition, a day of neighborly folly, a lesson that even high tide can’t destroy a community’s dedication to itself.

A single sand sculpture is a personal achievement. Dozens of them? That’s a communal triumph. And a heap of fun.

The Sand Castle Contest takes place on Carmel Beach on Saturday, September 16, 2017 from 8am-2pm.