| Verena Wolff |
SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas (dpa) – Andy Hancock, a burly guy, could easily pass as a trucker. But the Australian expatriate is a sand sculptor on South Padre Island, a barrier island off the coast of Texas in the Gulf of Mexico.
“It’s always warm and sunny here, and the sand is like nowhere else,” he said. There’s also plenty of it: The island, close to Mexico, boasts 55 kilometres of uninterrupted beaches.
The beaches are part of the so-called “Texas Riviera”, an arc of south-eastern Texas along the Gulf Coast, which is sometimes called the “Third Coast” after the US Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Cruise ships call here, and small, attractive cities dot the 600 kilometres between Galveston and the Mexican border.
The mood is tranquil, the fish is fresh and the fine white sand is everywhere.
Hancock’s office and workshop are under a wooden roof on the beach.
Everyone who takes a lesson from him gets a drinks bottle – the sun shines down mercilessly on South Padre Island – and a toolkit consisting of two spatulas, a fluffy brush to soften sharp edges, two mechanical pencils to draw designs such as shingles, stairs, bricks and windows, and drinking straws to blow excess sand from them.
Participants not only learn how to build elaborate sandcastles, but also animals of all sorts.
“We don’t do boring,” is Hancock’s motto. His two-hour lessons attract families, individuals and corporate groups, all of whom have lots of other options for having fun in the region besides shaping works of art from sand.
“People also come here for sport fishing far out in the Gulf,” said Mayor Robert Pinkerton Jr Either with their own boat or on guided tours, the anglers often spend all day hoping to hook “the big one”, such as a tarpon or shark.
The less patient can pass the time horseback riding on the beach at Corpus Christi to the north. Many places along the coast offer surfing lessons as well, although the waves are much smaller than those at top US surfing spots out at the oceans.
“That doesn’t matter,” said Jeff, an instructor at the Ohana Surf School in Galveston. “It’s calm and you can learn the motions.”
It’s hard to believe that the 2.2-million-population metropolis Houston, the most populous city in Texas, is just a short drive away. “You need about an hour to get there by car,” said Jeff, who like many people living on the Gulf is perfectly happy staying put. “Here the highways and skyscrapers are far away. I like that.”
Droves of visitors are drawn to the six historic districts of Galveston, which was built on a sandbank in 1836. By the end of the 19th Century the city had the country’s third-largest deep-water port and was a commercial and cultural centre of the Southwest. Attesting to its past prosperity are beautiful Victorian mansions. The city’s jewel of an opera house, built in 1894, still operates today.
Galveston is regarded as the northern end of the “Texas Riviera”.
Visitors who drive south on Texas State Highway 35 can simply pick out the stretch of beach they like best. Many of the barrier islands, including Galveston Island, Mustang Island and Padre Island, home of Padre Island National Seashore, have been wholly spared hotels from the big US chains.
Instead, there are still small motels and guesthouses, and the restaurants, too, tend to be of the local variety. It’s largely deserted everywhere, except during “spring break” in March, when university students descend on the area for a week of partying. Afterwards, the beaches belong to the birds again, and to the smattering of people enjoying the sun or building sandcastles with Andy Hancock. – PHOTOS: DPA