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Castles in the Sand

Santa’s elves have been at play in Sheraton Waikiki’s sandbox. Their names are Jill Harris and Thomas Koet, the world-champion sand sculpting duo responsible for the won’t-believe-’em-till-you-see-’em intricate sand spectacles on display at the hotel for the past six years. They’ve just completed the finishing touches on a giant holiday-themed tableau in the hotel entrance.

“We try to tie in some local flavor to each sculpture,” says Harris. “What we have here in the porte-cochere is 24 tons of sand. The theme is ‘Santa’s Hawaiian Workshop,’ so Santa is in his short-sleeved shirt and pants, and he doesn’t need a hat because it’s so beautiful here. Instead of elves, he has menehune helping him.”


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Jill Harris works on a menehune

A companion sculpture inside the hotel features a Christmas tree with children opening gifts that were made in Santa’s Hawaiian workshop. If it’s hard to picture the sculpture truly being made of nothing but sand and water, check out a minute-long time-lapse video of the eight days it took (at eight to 12 hours a day) to build the giant sand creation on Sheraton Waikiki’s Facebook page.

Harris says that without any upkeep, the display would last at least a year. Nevertheless, she and Koet, who’ve been working together for 14 years, show up every January, July and November to create something new out of the quarry sand, known as Maui Dune Sand.

“We use local sand wherever we go, but you need sand that has something to grab onto,” notes Harris. “If you think of the ocean as a giant rock tumbler and you were to magnify those grains of sand, they’re round like marbles, and if you stack marbles on top of each other, they’ll slide off. Sand from a quarry is flat or it has some angles or little ridges where, when you pack it together, they grab onto each other. When it dries out, it doesn’t just fall apart, because it’s kind of like Velcro. Those little grains hook to each other.” Sometimes a chunk of the art crumbles during the building process, but the experts take it in stride. Such setbacks are a given, because wet sand is still a volatile medium. Like couples who have been together so long that they finish each other’s sentences, this pair attends to this section or that of the sculpture, finishing off details for each other. Their approach is silent, seamless, telepathic.

They start with a pile of sand and work from the top down. First they use shovels, then trowels, then smaller tools like artist palette knives, and then, says Harris, “You raid the kitchen. The melon baller you never use at home for melon, well, you use it in sand all the time, and we use spoons and forks.”

Her tip for viewers: “When you take photos, we strongly encourage you not to use a flash. Even if you think it’s dark, there’s plenty of light and you’re going to get a much better photo if you don’t use a flash.”


It’s tap, jazz and hula! It’s traditional, modern and Hawaiian holiday tunes! It’s the brand new performance troupe called PACK-ids & Company! The group of two dozen 7- to 16-year-olds based out of Performing Arts Center of Kapolei is ready with a variety of lively numbers to help folks around the island celebrate the holiday season. (They’ll be one member short as Riley Newton is busy in the title role of Annie at Diamond Head Theatre.) They also have a couple of surprises in store, which we’ll divulge here: “Celia Kenney, who is in PACKids, her grandmother, Beverly Noa, a well-known hula dancer, will perform,” says Kari Nettel, whose own daughter Marlo also is in PACKids. “Angela Morales of Na Leo, our vocal director, will sing. (She directs along with accompanist Phil Hidalgo.)

“It’s a full production with songs like My Christmas List, which is a very rock ‘n’ roll, really high-energy, fun number. They’re doing a medley that has Hawaiian songs and traditional holiday songs. We have Merry Christmas Darling, Baby It’s Cold Outside, Rudolph and more.” The production, A Musical Holiday Greeting! takes place Dec. 2 at Kapolei High School Forum (91-5007 Kapolei Pkwy). Tickets cost $10 each (224-5314, pack-apolei.org). The group also performs at Honolulu City Lights Dec. 1 and, among various community events during the holidays, they’re scheduled to light up children’s lives with carols at The Queen’s Medical Center.