Jeff Strong '76: a world record, set in sand

By Michaele Birney Arneson '90

While some were coordinating campus construction efforts or teaching summer school, one Puget Sound staff member took a short break from university life to help set a new world record. Jeff Strong ’76, Web development lead in the Office of Information Systems, was part of a team that constructed the tallest—29 feet, 3.5 inches, to be exact—sand sculpture ever built.

Although Strong graduated from Puget Sound with an art degree, he only really got interested in sand sculpting about a year ago when he attended Olympia’s Sand in the City event. He considers himself fortunate to have become acquainted with sand sculptors he considers “masters.”

The four-person team included previous record holders Charlie Beaulieu from the Olympic Peninsula; Andrew Briggs from Victoria, B.C.; and Michael Velling from Federal Way, Wash., men who by day are an accountant, a dentist, and a carpenter.

To qualify for the world height record, the main sand sculpture had to be created using less than 100 man hours of labor. This constraint included the time required to manually shovel, mix with water, and pack into wooden forms approximately 210 tons (14 truckloads) of sand. The team was assisted by volunteers from the U.S. Marines, who worked in short sprints to shovel and pack the sand in the forms as they were stacked.

“Sand sculpting is part art, part contest, part show, part play; building the world’s tallest is as much an engineering feat as it is art,” said Strong, explaining that there was a mathematical calculation used to determine precisely the curve that each form would take to support the next. A surveyor was used to determine the exact height of the structure.

After the height of the structure was achieved by packing sand into 2-foot high forms stacked in layers, the forms were removed from the top down as each level was carved. The sculptors wore harnesses connected to a hydraulic lift to ensure their safety in the event of a collapse.

Among Strong’s tasks was to create one of two of the structure’s sign pieces. To do this, he used a concrete trowel, palette knife, fondue stick, and a straw to blow away the loose sand. Because his sign was not part of the large structure, the time to create it was not counted in the 100 hours. After his sign task was completed, he helped finish the base of the main structure.

Proud of his participation on the world’s tallest sand sculpture, Strong also enjoys the side benefits of his newfound hobby.

“In my job at Puget Sound, my task is to present information in a clear way. My background in [art] composition is helpful, but I don’t have the opportunity to be too creative,” said Strong. “Sand sculpting helps achieve a balance between my left brain-analytical side and right-brain creative side.”

He also looks forward to creating more of his own sand sculpture designs and sharing his hobby with his daughters, now 11 and 13. “Participating in these events provides an opportunity to bring the whole family to the beach.”