BRIGANTINE — The futuristic, tube-like city rose up beside the chateau, which in turn overlooked the convulsing sea creature slowly advancing toward the innocent turtle. Watching over it all appeared to be the Emerald City from "The Wizard of Oz," with a menacing hammerhead shark drawing near.

Also, there were a lot of muddy holes.

The entire tableau was part of the sand-castle building contest Saturday on the beach in Brigantine, a first-time event that saw about 150 people test their skills in the art of sandscaping and sandsculpting.

First, sand-castle artist Matthew Diebert, of the Smithville section of Galloway Township - busy carving a giant ad for contest sponsors Astick Realty - gave a few pointers to prospective sandcastlers. First: Get wet.

"I told them to find a spot on the beach with plenty of water to hold the sand together," Diebert said. "You've got to add water and sand and pack it in real tight."

Next: exterior decoration.

"For arches, you take two level areas and put your hands in between," Diebert said. "You pack sand on top, remove your hand - and you've got an arch. I got a lot of cheers and applause at that one. It's so easy, anyone can do it."

Steps? "You take a flat-edged tool and make a ramp from high to low," he said. "You go back to the top again, and you cut and pull away to make steps on the ramp. I call it the cut-and-pull technique."

Diebert, born in Atlantic City and one of eight siblings, said he practically grew up on the beach. But it was only 10 years ago that he saw a sand sculpture and said, "I could do that."

He has since won first place in the team event at the World Championship of Sand Scuplting, for a sculpture of Moses parting the Red Sea, and was part of the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of D-Day, for which he carved invading soldiers on the beaches at Normandy.

Several hours into the event, however, the novice sandcastlers were still having some difficulty describing exactly what it was they were making.

"This is a building, sort of like a castle," said Ben Couval, of Brigantine, pointing to a tiny, elaborately detailed sculpture sitting on a giant, blank mountain of sand. "We have a sort of chapel on top, a fortified wall up there, and we're going to spiral it all the way down with walls. And I think we'll build a second moat."

They were certainly not professional sculptors, Couval said - "But we're, like, halfway there," said his 8-year-old son, Evan.

Sarah Myers, of Swarthmore, Pa., was similarly confident with her family's work.

"Well, it's going to be a castle, hopefully," Myers said.

"We received instructions on how to build sand castles," said Kirsten Myers, "and clearly all these years we've been going about it the completely wrong way."

The Toczdylowski family, of Jessup, Pa., was creating "an imaginary sea creature," Lori Toczdylowski said - "A prehistoric sea creature," her husband, Joe, corrected her.

"We don't know what it's going to turn out to be," Toczdylowski said. "Big fins, scary scales. ... We're just making it up as we go along. We just know it's going to be frightening."

As his grandchildren Joey, Luci and Ben Toczdylowski worked on the sculpture, Ben Sebastianelli said the family had not made too many sand castles in the 50 years he has been coming to the shore - "But that's because we didn't want to show anybody up."

The most ambitious sculptors, meanwhile, came from our neighbors to the north - both Canada and Hudson County.

"We're building an historically accurate replica of the Chateau Frontenac," said Jason Renker, of Jersey City, referring to the historic hotel in Quebec City.

"It was a tough decision," said Jaya Rastogi, of Ottawa. "Either the Chateau Frontenac or an igloo."

"Because everybody thinks Canadians live in igloos," said Stella Rastogi.

Of course, the mound of sand was still unfinished enough that they could easily have just dug a big hole in the chateau and called it an igloo, if it came to that. A few hours in, they were mostly just throwing balls of wet sand at it. That's not to mention the trouble they had getting started.

"We couldn't find a bucket with a bottom in it," said Nikhil Rastogi. "They all had holes."

"Us poor Canadians!" Jaya Rastogi lamented.

As for Renker's wife, Tracey Puza, she mostly sat away from the construction site and read her book.

"She's the only one who actually grew up on the Jersey shore," Renker said. "And you can see what she's doing."

In the end, co-organizer Donna Dennis said, the Jones family, of Chester, N.Y., was selected by the judges as the winners in the family category, with Emily Jones winning the 8-and-under group. Baggy Damiani, of Drexel Hill, Pa., picked up the 9-13 age group prize, and Jason Zelinka, of Galloway Township, won in the 14-and-up category.

As for 11-year-old Nathan Smith, of West Deptford Township, Gloucester County, he may well still be out there.

"Well, I'm going to use these thingamabobbers to make a couple towers," he said as he stood amid an almost Mobius-strip-shaped series of ditches and holes. "Then I'm going to build a bunch of towers there, then over here, I'm going to use buckets to build something there, then kind of make a wall around it."

"Digging is my specialty," Smith said. "Not shaping it."

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