With the smooth, flat side of a small shovel, Andrew Montoni brushed loose sand away from what would eventually become a narrow bridge over the daunting moat that surrounds the Hogwarts Castle.
Montoni, 20, of Searingtown, was working tediously with his two cousins on Thursday morning to recreate the castle out of sand as contestants in the weekly sandcastle building contest at Hither Hills State Park in Montauk.
Montoni worked on the details while cousins Albert Core, 19, of Syosset, and Jaclyn McKenna, 20, of Huntington, planned a circular tower.
Two young boys who had just arrived at the beach ran over to them and gawked. They wanted to enter the contest, too.
“We should just give this one to them,” McKenna said. “We’re technically too old to be in the competition anyway.”
It was a technicality that probably cost them the competition, as theirs was the biggest and most detailed of the castles built that morning.
The contest has a weekly winner in two age groups, 10 and under and 10 to 15. Montoni, Core and McKenna took over the castle when their younger cousins, who all qualified for the contest, had wandered off.
“We can tell when they’ve had help,” said Ellyn Luciano, a volunteer at the park and a judge at the competition whose granddaughter marked her family’s fourth generation camping at the park.
She said the judges look for originality, use of things they find on the beach (but not picked from the dunes, which is illegal), a great story to go with their creation, and “the genuine smiles on the kids faces. That does a lot.”
About 10 groups competed on Thursday, working on their creations from 9:30 until the four judges began making their rounds at 11:30. Barbara Wilson, a judge in the Southampton Town Justice Court, is typically among the sandcastle judges, but she recused herself this week because her daughter had entered the competition.
The sand creations varied from the Hogwarts castle, to a medieval village that had been attacked by an octopus-looking alien, to giant sea creatures including one turtle that was celebrating a birthday.
Many of the groups were families that made a tradition out of camping at Hither Hills each summer, and many who had participated in the sandcastle contest before, even some who had won, but everyone agreed the fun was in the creation process.
“It’s really satisfying to just finish and see what you’ve done,” said Chris Barry, 14, of Dix Hills, who had been entering the contest for the past six year with his cousins.
This year, they created a 15-foot long shark and Barry buried himself in the sand at the shark’s open jaw - apparently lunch.
But no win for them this year.
Kyra McCreery, 9, and her sister Evelyn, 7, of Sea Cliff, worked with their cousins Grace Sawyko, 7, and Elise Franck, 11, both of Canton, New York, and won the 10 and under competition with a sand dragon whose head popped up from the ground.
Sean Brogan, 12, of Manorville worked with his sister Elise, 11, on a sandcastle fit for a king, or a god - Poseidon, to be exact.
“It’s his Hamptons home,” he said.
The Brogans won for the 10 to 15 group, mainly because of the story surrounding their creation, Luciano said.
“Poseidon chose Hither Hills as his summer home,” she said. “We figured he was a wise guy.”