- Associated Press - Friday, May 26, 2017

SARASOTA, Fla. (AP) - Two Sarasota men who call themselves the “Sand Monkeys” are hoping to carve a name for themselves among local beach goers.

Tony Hammonds, 47, and Randy Rist, 32, both of Sarasota, are the mystery men behind some of the superheroes and sandcastles that have popped up along Lido and Siesta public beaches. They spend the week deciding on their designs and then start building their sand sculptures on Sunday mornings.

It’s a weekly routine that Hammonds started with his brother, Tommy Maye, 53, last November.

Maye died two months ago.

Hammonds said it was their passion to become world-renowned sand sculptors, but after Maye’s death he questioned whether he could go back to the beach without him to carve.

“I tell people he’s out there every time; he’s with me and I feel like that. This was a goal of ours to do that and make this happen - to join a crew and make sandcastles,” Hammonds said. “Things got crazy, of course, and the passion is there, and I want to do it because I know that’s what the plans were.”

With his brother’s memory, some plywood boards and hand-crafted tools made of PVC pipe, Hammonds recruited Randy Rist to be his partner. He taught him the tricks of the trade he and his brother learned from a man named Mark they met remodeling a home. Mark took the men to the beach and showed them his secrets.

Hammonds laughs, turns to a green garden hose in his garage - where he has a 16-feet-by-25-feet sand pit - and picks it up waving the nozzle.

“The secret ingredient - this is the funny part - everybody geeks out on this. Water.”

There are no special mixtures used in Hammond’s and Rist’s sculptures. They used the plywood boards as siding to hold the sand together and stack it as high as 12 feet, and then wet it down. They sculpt from the top down.

Most of their intricate design work happens at eye-level.

“You know how many times we are at the beach and people come up - ‘Did you put Elmer’s glue in that?’ or ‘Do you put hairspray on it after you get done with it?’” Hammonds said, adding the ingredients are “sand and water and you carve it.

“That way its how you found it when you’re done with it.”

Hammonds has completed around 20 large-scale sand-sculptures, while Rist is going on his seventh.

The two share a love for the beach and find their work, the soft sand between their bare feet and the crashing of the waves, relaxing as they create.

Lately, they’ve been building their sandcastles around the Siesta Key Drum Circle. The “Sand Monkeys” have a self-titled Facebook page where people post pictures or comments about their work.

“I love the interaction with people,” said Hammonds, who asks that people use the hashtag #SandMonkeys when posting pictures. “I love seeing that they enjoy it. To me that’s the biggest part of it.”

Hammonds and Rist made a sandcastle that lasted nearly a week before it was knocked over, and created a special Mother’s Day design recently, the whole time surrounded by curious kids. The two take time to talk to them and offer pointers.

For the most part, Hammonds, a home re-modeler, and Rist, a computer tech, said they are just two normal guys at the beach.

“I feel green,” Hammonds said. “It’s a learning process but I’m loving it; it’s a passion.”

Once the men refine their work they hope to participate in some amateur competitions, and ultimately the Siesta Key Crystal Classic International Sand Sculpting Festival on Nov. 10-13.

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Information from: Sarasota (Fla.) Herald-Tribune, https://www.heraldtribune.com


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