Chris Shum, Sand Sculptor

Chris, a sand sculpture artist, explains where it all began and why he’s happy for his work to be washed away.

I never intended to be a sand sculpture artist, but when I was young I lived in a rural area. There was nothing to play with but sand.

It all began on a school trip to Cheung Chau. I was feeling nervous and excited about starting high school so, one night, I went for a walk along the beach by myself. I started playing with the sand and ended up making a pair of legs. One of my friends came to find me and from a distance in the moonlight he mistook it for a pair of real human legs. He thought we’d found a corpse and wanted to call the police. But after I showed him it was just sand we laughed about it. Whenever I go to the beach I recall that night.

I took part in my first competition in 1989. We came runner-up and I went on to create the Sand Hand Team, which now has 20 members.

Now, I work in construction sales. I do sand sculpture in my spare time and teach classes for people aged three to 80. It’s a good way to meet people, good exercise and it’s environmentally friendly. I enjoy building sculptures that have a message, for example about peace or the environment.

Chris Shum

Chris Shum and his team


To sculpt sand you need physical endurance, practice, a good design, the right proportion of sand to water (usually 3:1), and, of course, you must like sand.

The hardest type of sculpture to build is usually human or building related. It’s hard to make human faces look realistic and buildings require a strong and level foundation which takes time.

Through sand sculpture I have travelled to different countries. In Japan, the proximity of volcanoes means the sand contains charcoal and tends to be darker. This makes it lighter and harder to pack and shape. The sand in Hong Kong is really good, particularly in the Southside. It’s fine and packs well, and the large number of beaches means there is lots of it. I particularly like sculpting in Shek O because the beach is big so there is plenty of space to build.

Chris Shum and his team

The longest I’ve ever spent on a sculpture is 60 hours. It was part of a two-month exhibition at Ma Wan shopping centre on animal protection.

I’m not disappointed when the sculpture washes away. When I build it, I am taking away from nature, so allowing it to wash away is like giving back. When I see people building sand sculptures on the beach I feel happy because they look like they are having fun.

See Chris in action at the Southern District Sand Sculpture Competition on November 8 at Shek O Beach.