Sand Sawdust Festival brings crowds to Ocean Shores

As the first official weekend of the summer season is in the rearview mirror, residents of Grays Harbor were greeted with warm sunny weather after an uncharacteristically cold and wet spring. While a lot of the tourism attention over the weekend was focused on one tip of the harbor with the Rusty Scuppers Pirate Daze Festival in Westport, another festival on the opposite tip brought people outdoors.

The Sand & Sawdust Festival in Ocean Shores kicked off Friday morning, June 24, to the tune of revved-up chain saws and the smell of sawdust at the Ocean Shores Convention Center. The event coursed through the weekend as people came from across Grays Harbor and beyond to partake in the festivities. Whether it was bears, birds, turtles, or John Wayne riding a horse, wood cravings of anything imaginable could be found on display as 25 different carvers worked in their booths for the public to watch.

For Blaine and Kim Gunkel, the festival has been a yearly tradition for the last four years. While Kim works on the decorating aspects of the wood carving, her husband Blaine works beside her turning his visions into reality.

Blaine, who describes himself as “semi-pro” when it comes to wood carving, said the festival is more than just a local event.

“For a lot of us carvers, this event is not your typical summertime carnival. Some people think that it’s just people from Ocean Shores who participate in this when in reality it brings people from all places, and for some, it’s a lifestyle as well as a profession,” Blaine said. “We’ve got carvers here that come from places like Argentina and Ukraine to participate here every year and the oldest carver here just had his 81st birthday not too long ago. There’s no age discrepancy here.”

Baine went on to say there are no walk-ins at the event given that all carvers must present previous works to the city to participate in the festival. He said carvers are allowed to produce any visuals they want if it’s considered family-friendly, and that carvings are broken down into two categories for entry into the live auction.

“All the carvings we do are either done as a quick carve or a standard carve. Quick carves take about 90 minutes and standard carves take as long as the carver needs, but we all must produce at least three pieces every day for the auction,” Blaine said.

Even though the Sand & Sawdust Festival honors the unique and harmonious ecosystems of the Olympic Peninsula through the perspective of live art, there was much more to the festivities than the carvings. Sand sculpture contests, live music, and vendors among other things provided visitors with entertainment across the convention center plaza.

With the warm weather present, sand sculpters were given great timing to build their masterpieces as countless people walked by, took pictures, and talked with the builders.

“These sculpture contests go for days but afterward, it is up to Mother Nature to determine how long they stand for,” said Scott Nigel, who coordinates all the sand and beach activities. “We’d love nothing more than to see them up for the whole summer given how much work was done.”

Even as people crowded the convention center lot, even more people could be found inside the convention center as tourism vendors set up shop for those that needed a minute out of the sun. For some people, the opportunity for nice beach weather was more than enough to come to check out the festival.

Eric Kane, a tourist from outside Grays Harbor, said coming to the festival was completely by coincidence.

“I was convinced that the weather was never going to get this good after the lousy spring we had, but when I saw that it going to reach 90 degrees, I wanted to enjoy it much as I could,” Kane said. “I had no idea this festival was going on, but when I saw the big crowd of people, I got interested. Honestly, this is amazing work that’s on display, especially if you like art. I think I’ll be coming back next year for sure.”