Metro

On Hampton Beach, a stunning art display rises from mounds of sand

 A sculptor is hard at work crafting a UFO out of sand on Hampton Beach.
Hampton Beach Master Sand Sculpting Classic
A sculptor is hard at work crafting a UFO out of sand on Hampton Beach.

For the past 18 years, Hampton Beach has shipped in 200 tons of imported sand to the New Hampshire coast every June for what sand sculptor extraordinaire Greg Grady calls “a free museum on the beach.”

Hampton Beach Master Sand Sculpting Classic
A competitor shoveled sand from his 10-ton allotment on Hampton Beach on Wednesday, ahead of the start of the 18th annual competition.

Renowned sand sculptors travel from as far as Canada and California for a chance at $15,000 in prize money — and the bragging rights that come along with winning the annual, invite-only competition.

The 2018 Hampton Beach Master Sand Sculpting Classic began Thursday morning, and for the next couple of days, sculptors will be hard at work unearthing art from massive mounds of sand.

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“People call me from all over the world that want a piece of this event,” Grady said. “You have to be a master sculptor to compete here.”

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Only 10 lucky competitors are invited every year. Grady chooses the most talented and tries to include locals among the bunch. Competitors are often invited back, but if they don’t place in the contest for two years in a row, they’re out.

“It opens the door for somebody else,” Grady said. “My son, Craig — we had to let him go because he hadn’t placed in two years. That was a hard conversation to have.”

The event is free, and the public is welcome to come throughout the sculpting process, Grady said.

“The whole thing is interesting, but it’s sort of like watching grass grow at the same time,” he said. “It’s the only event that people come to the beach to look at in the rain.”

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On Saturday from 1 to 3 p.m., people will have a chance to vote for their favorite sculpture. The winner will be awarded a special people’s choice award. Later that night, all the winners will be announced, followed by a fireworks show.

Can’t make it this weekend? Don’t fret, Grady says. The sculptures will remain on the beach through June 28 and will be illuminated at night.

Laney Ruckstuhl can be reached at laney.ruckstuhl@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @laneyruckstuhl.