April 24th, 2015 at 9:30 am

Sandcastle building San Diego

Sand castles have gone big time. There’s “Sand Masters” on the Travel Channel, building competitions such as the Sun & Sea Festival in Imperial Beach south of San Diego, and now, thanks to a former math teacher, you can attend “sandcastle school.”

San Diegan JT Estrela came up with the idea after getting laid off from his charter school job. He looked for work at night and spent his days sculpting in the sand at a local beach. He decided to combine his love of teaching and art by showing others how to work with the grainy medium. So he cashed in his 401k, signed up his first students, and founded San Diego Sand Castles. In a very short time, his classes in Del Mar rose to No. 1 on’s “Top 10 Things to Do in San Diego” list. He hopes to expand operations to other area beaches soon.

Estrela and his three “sculpting experts” teach students of all ages how to build whimsical, creative sculptures with sand, water, a broken plastic fork for designs, and a straw to blow away the sand. All materials are less than $5 each. Visitors from around the world can take classes three times a day, every day of the week. All scheduling can be done online.

A full three-hour session goes for a flat rate of $120 for the first two people, and $20 per additional participant for up to five more. Each instructor spends three hours demonstrating the ins and outs of creating sand castles.

No artistic experience is necessary, and all equipment is included. The goal is to graduate students who can build castles like a pro with just a few buckets. Techniques covered include hand stacking, towers, windows, doors, walls, stairs, textures, arches, bridges, and other cool sand tricks.

Castles aren’t the only thing Estrela and his team build. They’ve designed giant dragons in bathtubs, prairie dogs surveying the horizon, “Snoopy” on his doghouse, lemonade stands, and other imaginative creations.

Sand sculptures are more than just for temporary enjoyment. Now they’re backdrops for marriage proposals, special events, and can even be commissioned for indoor displays. Estrela and his crew handle them all. Literally. And they invite you to play along.

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