Thunderstorm Cuts Belmar’s Sandcastle Contest Short

By Lauren Wanko

It’s not the ideal beach day. Still the rain didn’t stop competitors from dragging their shovels and tools — even kitchen utensils — onto the sand for Belmar’s 29th Annual New Jersey Sandcastle Contest.

“There’s people that take a lot of time and effort. People have gotten here at 5 a.m. this morning to start on their creation,” said Belmar Mayor Matt Doherty.

Everything from dolphins to colorful volleyballs to Homer Simpson dotted the beach. These returning champions are making what they call a modern-day version of Noah’s Ark.

A giant size Winnie the Pooh could have gotten a tan if the sun was out.

What goes into making it? “First a very big mound then basically just sculpting out of mound. There’s some arguing that goes on in the beginning and then finally we start to find our groove and everything,” said contestant Jacqulyn Bassett.

Not far from Winnie, an elephant is taking shape next to a lion and hippo. This group calls themselves Tiny Tembo Tours.

“We’re making an African watering hole safari. Every year I try to think about something that everyone can recognize,” said contestant Theresa Tarabocchia.

By late morning, as the sculptors started surveying their competition, a thunderstorm swept over the beach. The contest ended earlier then expected. People were told to evacuate the beach.

“Once we see lightning strike or hear thunder, we have to get people off the beach right away. It’s a danger. I know it’s rare happening when lightning strikes somebody, but you have to always have to err on side of caution,” said Belmar Lifeguard Supervisor Ray Elms.

“It’s kind of disappointing because we worked really hard on our sandcastles and now we have to get off,” said contestant Brooke Reilly.

The free contest’s sponsored by D’Jais and other local businesses.

“Normally this sombrero protects us from the sun. This year they turned into rain hats,” said D’Jais owner Frank Sementa.

Thirty judges were prepared to spend the entire morning judging about 100 creations. That plan changed as the rain rolled in.

“Whatever people had at around 10:30 before the rain hit, we have to take into consideration,” said judge Sean Dillon.

There are six different categories of winners and usually they receive their trophies and gift baskets right after the competition, but not today because of the rain. Instead they’ll be called at home and they’ll be posted on the borough’s website.

There’s also the best of beach winner. We learned later in the day Tiny Tembo Tours nabbed that title.

Despite the weather, the mayor says the contest brought people into town.

“Those people have to spend money somewhere so they’ll go somewhere for lunch, maybe they went somewhere for breakfast, so it helps all our businesses as well,” Doherty said.

Whatever the rain didn’t wash away will be bulldozed today so beachgoers can lounge in the sun tomorrow.