A trip to New Brunswick last year was no day at the beach for Nelson sand sculptor Alex Avelino.
In August 2021, Avelino and his sculpting partner, Peter Vogelaar of Winlaw, were invited to compete on the CBC show Race Against The Tide. Each episode, 10 teams of renowned sculptors have six hours to create art from sand before the Bay of Fundy’s famously high tide sweeps it all away.
If judges like a sculpture, the team continues on with a chance to win $10,000. If the sculpture is no good, the team is — figuratively speaking — washed out to sea.
“There’s a lot of stress on you to get this done so you can survive to the next episode, and even if you do survive you have to do it all over again the next day,” said Avelino ahead of the season two premier on Sunday, July 10.
“It’s day after day after day. Those who reach the end I have so much respect for because it is gruelling.”
It may be difficult work, but it’s also Avelino’s passion.
Avelino moved to the outskirts of Nelson in 2011 and took an interest in the work of his neighbour John McKinnon, a well-regarded sculptor who that year earned a Guinness World Record for the longest sandcastle with a 27.5-kilometre structure on an island in the Baltic Sea.
McKinnon suggested Avelino meet Vogelaar, whose work with ice has earned him commissions at multiple Winter Games. Avelino has since taken part in and won at snow sculpting competitions, and credits his artistic growth to Vogelaar’s mentorship.
“He sees that in me, that it’s not just a hobby for me. I really do want to pursue this as a career.”
Vogelaar has over three decades experience in snow and sand sculpting, but Avelino is relatively new to using sand as a medium and had never previously competed in a sand competition before CBC called.
Sculptors, he’s learned, have to be picky with the sand they use. If there’s not enough clay in the mix, or the sand doesn’t hold water very well, a towering castle can quickly become rubble.
That fragility forces artists to improvise when errors are made.
“Unlike snow, you really can’t just cut a piece of sand block and then put it back where the piece fell,” said Avelino. “Sand is like, if it’s gone, it’s gone. Then you just have to either think smaller, or come up with a new idea right there on the spot. So it’s definitely trains you to think on your feet.”
Although the experience shooting Race Against The Tide was exhausting for Avelino, he also found it inspiring to meet people who have made sand sculpting their careers.
Husband-wife duo Wilfred Stijger and Edith van de Wetering of The Netherlands have been professional sculptors for over 25 years. American JT Estrela was a math teacher before becoming a full-time sculptor, while his partner Amanda Gafford is also a full-time registered nurse.
As a relative rookie among professionals, Avelino said he felt welcomed and encouraged.
“This is one of the reasons why I feel like this is where I belong. They’re world travellers and they are very open, social beings. That’s how I see myself.”
Avelino was careful not to spoil the show, but there will be surprises waiting for him when he watches the final product. Because he left each day before the tide came in, he never saw what the water did to the art he and Vogelaar had just spent hours creating.
That his art is here and gone at the whims of the Earth doesn’t bother Avelino — he thinks that’s what makes it unique.
“The goal really isn’t to keep something alive forever. It’s just to be able to produce something awe-inspiring for an audience and to finish it. And that’s it. Once it’s done, that’s the experience.”
Season two of Race Against The Tide premiers July 10 at 8:30 p.m. on CBC with weekly episodes also available on CBC Gem.