KIANTONE - It's been a long struggle, but Todd Pangborn's dream of becoming a master sand sculptor has finally been achieved.
In 2012, Pangborn took first place as an advanced amateur in the 26th annual American Sand Sculpting Championship in Fort Myers Beach, Fla. However, the win didn't earn him title as master because he was only able to garner approval from two out of four master judges. But, Pangborn had a second chance in July to win over the same judges at the first annual Blue Water Sand Fest in Port Huron, Mich. And, not only did he take first place as an advanced amateur, but he also won the people's choice award, effectively earning him the opportunity to compete at the master level in next year's competition. Yet, Pangborn didn't stop there, and several months later in November he competed in the 27th annual American Sand Sculpting Championship in Fort Myers Beach, Fla., where he defended his first place advanced amateur title.
With the two wins behind him, and recognition that he is a master from his peers, Pangborn has begun honing his skills for the next level of competition. In 2014, Pangborn will enter, as a master, both July's second annual Blue Water Sand Fest and November's 28th annual American Sand Sculpting Championship.
Todd Pangborn, of Kiantone, is pictured at the 27th annual American Sand Sculpting Championship in Fort Myers Beach, Fla., where he defended his first place advanced amateur title. The front of his piece entitled “Owe, Owe, Owe, Merry Christmas?” is shown.
Pangborn is pictured at the first annual Blue Water Sand Fest in Port Huron, Mich. with the sculpture that won him first place and the people’s choice award.
According to Pangborn, he has been recreationally sculpting sand for more than 15 years, and only got serious about it in 2011 when he entered his first competition. Since then he has had a dream of becoming a master, but he first had to work his way up through the ranks.
"Unless you're a master, you're considered an amateur," Pangborn said. "The advanced amateurs are more of a hand-selected group, and it's one of the ways to become a master. If you win the state championship there are typically three or four masters that are judging the advanced amateurs, and if it's unanimous that they feel you're good enough than they can recommend that you're moved up to master."
Yet, in hindsight, Pangborn feels as if the first time he felt like he was recognized for being a master came last year during the 26th annual American Sand Sculpting Championship, he said.
"I did get two votes saying I was good enough at that competition," Pangborn said. "It's nice to get recognition from those who you'd like to be your peers. It feels good to get recognition from people who have been sand sculpting for 20 years or more - from some who even do it as profession. I've worked hard at it to try and improve things, and it's paying off."
The Blue Water Sand Fest was the first master level competition held in the state of Michigan, and in it Pangborn earned first place as an advanced amateur as well as winning the people's choice award. There were a total of four other advanced amateurs in the competition, and not only did Pangborn out-sculpt them, but he also earned the unanimous approval of the masters judging the competition.
"The competition was held at the Port Huron Fort Gratiot Lighthouse station, and going into it I thought it would be the perfect subject," Pangborn said. "I wanted to add features into the sculpture that illustrated the purpose of a lighthouse, such as navigation for sailors and fishermen, which is why I added one in. There was also a compass on the side, and on the back was a map of Lake Huron. It went over quite well, and all the spectators really liked it. During the second day of the competition I had enough of the sculpture done that people could see what I was doing, and there were masters that I hadn't even met at that point who asked me why I wasn't a master. So, I knew that if I won I had a pretty good chance at being asked back as a master next year."
In November, Pangborn also competed in the 27th annual American Sand Sculpting Championship in Fort Myers Beach, Fla., where he defended his first place advanced amateur title. The theme for the competition was "Go Big, Or Go Home For The Holidays," and Pangborn had to come up with a creation that represented that concept.
"As soon as they announced the theme I came up with the idea," Pangborn said. "To me, the theme is basically asking the question: is spending a lot of money and going overboard what makes Christmas a merry Christmas, or is it family and togetherness? So, the front side of the house is all about excess and is stuffed full - you see the Christmas tree sticking out the chimney and windows and all the presents are outside because they won't fit inside. There is also a credit card bill scrolling down from the roof, a woman sitting at a desk trying to figure out how to pay the bill and a guy trying to push a present into the door. In the back of the house it's a much more elegant house, a little Christmas tree outside with a few presents underneath it and the family together."
TO THE FUTURE
Although he hasn't yet started practicing for next year's competitions, Pangborn said he has been rolling some ideas around in his head. However, to prepare for the upcoming competitions, Pangborn has added an extra three tons of sand to the seven tons he has been using to practice at home. The reason he did so is because the masters generally work with about that much, and he wants to be able to create master level pieces.
"It's to get the feel of how big things have to be and how much sand to use," Pangborn said. "Utilization of sand is important in the judging, so the more you can use the better you're going to score."
Pangborn also never goes to a competition without having some sort of plan about what he will be sculpting, he said. He often even attempts to create the piece he will sculpt at a competition at home first.
"They never turn out the same the second time because there are always things you want to change or improve upon," Pangborn said. "In the end it turns out better than what I did at home."
According to Pangborn, becoming a master is a dream finally recognized, but it's not enough for him to turn his passion into a profession. What began as a hobby nearly two decades ago will remain that way. And, he will continue to report for duty to his day job, an engineer at Miraclean in Ashville. But, he would like to try to get invited to other master level competitions.
"I want to do it more for fun than as a profession," Pangborn said. "I like going for a week and having my family come along, but I don't want to be doing it full time. It's my nature to create things - it's what I do as an engineer. To be able to say, 'Hey, I made that from nothing,' is probably the biggest enjoyment that I get out of doing it."
Pangborn lives in Kiantone with his wife, Lori, and two daughters, Jessica and Nicole. For more information, search for "Todd Pangborn" on Facebook or "pangdad_62" on Flickr.com.