Tens of thousands of people turned out Sunday to welcome back what locals simply know as sandcastles.
Approximately 30,000 people attended the Sun & Sea Festival and Kids 'N Kastles Competition, with near 10,000 people in attendance at its peak, according to estimates by event organizers.
The old Sun & Sea Festival started in the 1960s and grew to include a parade, carnival, swim around the pier, celebration of the city's birthday, fundraisers by local organizations and finally a sandcastle competition in 1980.
Eventually the sandcastle competition overshadowed the Sun & Sea Festival as the largest event of the year in Imperial Beach and the festival and many of the activities attached to it faded away.
In the first year a competition was held since the U.S. Open Sandcastle Committee dissolved in 2011, the name Sun & Sea Festival and its focus on the local community emerged again, brought back by volunteer committees and organizers.
The name Sun & Sea Festival was also chosen to keep the phrase "sandcastle competition" out of the event's name to limit crowd size and keep security costs down.
Instead of an adult competition, more than 100 vendors and hundreds of thousands of people, this year's event focused on a sandcastle competition for kids and other family activities.
Volunteer committees and organizers will decide how the event will be structured next year in the future.
Money from the Port of San Diego will be available for the next sandcastle competition, said Jim Hutzelman, but the amount has not yet been determined.
A decision to go forward with a sandcastle competition this year was not made until March when $40,000 in seed money was provided by the Port of San Diego provided that the event doubled as a celebration of the Port's 50th anniversary.
Along with Cal-Am Water, more than 40 local businesses and organizations sponsored the festival.
Archisand, I.B. Posse and Sand Squirrels, three teams who won top honors in past U.S. Open Sandcastle Competitions, came together to make one giant sand sculpture made of three parts.
At the center was the Sun & Sea Festival logo, a classic sandcastle and a kite. To the left was a Port of San Diego logo to celebrate its 50th anniversary and to the right a whale, a former Sun & Sea Festival logo.
One topic of discussion among attendees Sunday was whether or not the event should stay small or if efforts should be made to grow the competition and increase the size of crowds.
At its height, the U.S. Open Sandcastle Competition brought more than an estimated 400,000 people to Imperial Beach, making it one of the largest annual events held in San Diego County.
Rick Barajas came to the competition with 10 other people from Riverside, CA. He said he liked the kids sandcastle competition, acrobats and dancing this year but wants to see adult competitions and large crowds return.
"I liked it better when it was bigger," he said. "It was nice in the past when they had more [sandcastle] design."
Francisco Briseno of Paradise Hills in San Diego also said he wants to see adult competitors and larger crowds return.
"Dude, I liked it better when there were more people around. It was way more better last time," Briseno said.
Inge and Robert Miller of Imperial Beach said they liked the size of the event held this year.
"400,000 people is just flat out... the sheriff's department can't handle that," Robert said.
"This is nice. You can move around," Inge said.
Growing up in Imperial Beach, sandcastles were the highlight of the summer, said Juli Dittmer. When asked if she misses the bigger competitions of the past she said, "Not really. It's just never going to be the same."
"I do like how it's kind of smaller. It's better but it's not the same. It will never be the same," she said.
Dittmer said she likes smaller crowds in part because they are easier to manage and more safe.
"In the past I've had a friend get stabbed at sandcastles," she said. "When you get older you see more of what's happening."
Despite wind speeds around 20 mph at the beach at the start of the competition, 17 teams of up to five children 12 and under took part in the Kids 'N Kastles Competition.
1st Place- Speed Demons for Killer Whale and Shark
2nd Place- Meadow Stars for Bottlenose Dolphin
3rd Place- The Mermaids for Dragonfly Mermaid
There was also a Spongebob Square Pants, turtles with a shell made of sea shells Pac Man sculpture named Pac Sand.
Entertainment on center stage in Pier Plaza was provided by:
- School of Rock House Band
- Sophia Isadora Academy of Circus Arts
- Likely Storm Kids Showcase
- IB Yoga
- Victor Barajas and the Ortiz brothers with the Mar Vista High School Guitar Club
- Mar Vista High School NJROTC
What do you think? Should Imperial Beach keep its sandcastle competition small or should efforts be made to grow the Sun & Sea Festival and again bring hundreds of thousands of people to IB? Share in comments.