Who is the main artist?…My name is Victor Leong. I was born in North Carolina in 1974 & moved to Stockton, California as a toddler. I switched coasts at the age of 17 & ended up in Miami. I’m a Chinese/Cuban surfer dude that loves low-rider bicycles. I make Chinese dragon kites & zeppelins (blimps). I’ve excelled in the art of building ‘ships-in-bottles’ & also construct model ships out of wood.
Why build sandcastles?…Why not! I love the fact that I can take a mound of sand & convert it into a majestic sandcastle in just a few hours. If my art were spread out like a ship, the sandcastles would be my main sail. I’m an independent artist sailing the sea of sand. I keep learning at every turn.
How long does it take?…It depends on the size. A decent 6-ft. high by 12-ft. wide castle takes about 8 hours. The castles I made on 9th Street & Ocean Drive on Miami Beach took anywhere from 30 to 80 hours & at its tallest stood about 12-ft. tall by 40-ft. wide. At first I would sculpt for up to 12 hours nonstop. Sometimes, if I took a short break & walked away, local drunks would destroy the castle & I would have to start over. I eventually hired people to guard the castle while I was away.
Do you mix anything with the sand?…Castles on Miami Beach were made using just sand & water (lots of water); nothing else. The sand is muddy & hardens when the sun heats it. South Beach’s sand is perfect for making long-lasting sand sculptures. In other cities & in extreme situations, when the sand doesn’t have enough clay, I have to dig a few holes until I find a patch of fine-particle sand to mix with the coarser sand that's already on the surface.
How are the castles made?…Sand & water are mixed in a 5-gallon bucket. Then I scoop up a handful of sand & let out the right amount of water while molding different forms by hand & placing them on the mound. I don’t use standard sculpting tools. I only use my hands to make all the intricate details & a flat stick to make stairs & pyramids. No carving tools are used & that makes the sculptures look more like ancient ruins. It’s a totally different vibe than a carved-out castle.
How long do the sandcastles last?…If left untouched my record is 3 months. It can handle moderate wind & rain. A torrential rainstorm will destroy most of the detail & leave only silhouetted towers.
Are castles the only sculptures you make in sand?…I have made a wide range of designs at different times like pyramids, hotel replicas, ships, automobiles, etc., but my expertise is making castles.
When & where did you start building sandcastles?…By the Newport Pier in North Miami Beach in 1991. They were mostly amateur creations. I got serious sometime after Hurricane Andrew in 1992 & chose 9th Street & Ocean Drive as my main spot. It became a family-friendly tourist attraction until November 2003. I no longer make castles there. That's another story.
Why did you make 9th Street your main spot?…I used to ride my bicycle all over town & one day I was cruisin’ down South Beach & noticed a pile of sand by the coral sea wall. With a lot of effort I turned it into a decent sandcastle. Many locals & tourists complimented me & told me to keep up the good work. At that moment I knew I was on to something. Like the line from the movie ‘Field of Dreams’, "If you build it, they will come!"
Did anyone teach you?…No one taught me, I learned by trial & error.
Did anyone pay you to do this on 9th Street?…At first I worked for free & it was fun, but my castles were small. One day I left my hat on the wall & people started putting money into it & I thought, "Wow, this is cool." Some of the money I made from the donations went to hire guards & for purchasing torch fuel. The castle was lit with mini-torches every night, even when I wasn’t there. Thanks to everyone who donated & kept the dream alive & to all the guards that protected my creations.
Do you get paid to make sandcastles at other locations?…Yes. I get contracted for birthday parties, corporate events, weddings, music videos, TV shows, commercials, movies, etc.
Do you work alone?…Not anymore. In ’96 I met Johnny Starman who was intrigued by my castles. He said he would try to spread my magic all over the world. He is currently my agent & gets me all the ritzy contracts. On the job he fetches bucketfuls of water & piles the sand with a shovel. I’m not organized, and ‘shame on me,’ I’m not too responsible either. He helps keep me in line & cracks the whip…Ouch! For special events, Rocío Flor, our sand-sculpting instructor, helps me teach kids & adults how to sculpt sand pyramids & small castles. She's really good with kids. The 3 of us make a good team.
Where else have you built castles?…I’ve been to Paradise Island in the Bahamas for the grand opening of the Royal Towers at the Atlantis Hotel & to other beautiful Bahamian Islands. I went to Switzerland & built concrete sandcastles for an amusement park. Galveston, Texas has great sand, I go there a lot. I have also built castles all over Dade, Broward, Monroe, & Palm Beach counties in FL; inside convention centers, & even in back yards.
What are your plans for the future?…I’d like to travel to more untouched stretches of beach around the globe. I plan to write a "how-to" book on sandcastles & maybe do an instructional video. I want to be the best…I expect to surprise myself.
How can you be contacted?…Through my agent/manager, Johnny Starman, or my sand-sculpting instructor, Rocío Flor.