Amazin’ Walter, the Grand Poobah of the Sons of the Beach
The sand sculptor with the worldwide reputation known as “Amazin Walter” is better known in Orange as Walter McDonald. McDonald grew up in the Clairmont Addition in north Orange, and graduated from Lutcher Stark High School in 1960. Nothing in his early years pointed to him becoming the most recognizable character on South Padre Island, a sand sculptor who has entered and won competitions all over the world, started the Sons of the Beach, and makes people promise to “unlitter.”
Some of it started when McDonald was a Boy Scout sitting on the edge of Cow Creek at Boy Scout camp when one of his friends took some wet sand and started dribbling the sand into a pile that became a sand castle. McDonald became interested in building sand castles that day.
He also developed a talent for photography. By the age of 12 his parents had built him a dark room so that he could learn to develop his own photographs. In high school he was the photographer for “Tiger Scratches” the school newspaper and the “Orange Peel”, the yearbook. In college he majored in photography and worked as a freelance photographer doing among other things, underwater photography. He worked for the Albuquerque Times and the Dallas Times Herald. When he tired of the newspaper business he operated a commercial/advertising photography studio in Dallas. Tiring of the business world, he “dropped out” and travelled in a VW van, making jewelry, writing songs, and generally entertaining folks wherever he went. He learned to play the guitar, ukulele, harmonica, and drums. He also became a good singer. In 1978 he ended up on South Padre Island. He was there to visit a friend, and found that the sand there was superior sand castle building material.
It was not long before he was established on the island. He worked as a clown, magician, and sand castle builder. He also started giving classes in sand castle building and along the way developed specialized tools for the art. His specialized tools are very popular with sand sculptors.
The persona of Walter McDonald was replaced by “Amazin Walter” He began to amaze tourists with his ability to build soaring castles. He was the first sand sculptor to build arches that had seemed impossible before he built the first one.
In 1985 the South Padre Island Convention and Visitors Bureau invited him to perform his art at a convention in Corpus Christi. Since that time he has participated in sand sculpting competitions and displays in China, Japan, Belgium, Holland, Qatar, Mexico, Canada, Nassau, Bermuda, Costa Rica, and many cities in the United States. He has built Wedding Castles, Happy Birthday Castles and given private sand castle building lessons for tourists on South Padre Island.
His first entry in solo masters competition was in 1992 when he entered and won first place in the American Sand Sculpting Competition in Fort Myers, Florida.
His sculpting is popular with the public, often he wins the “People’s Choice” award in competitions. He has made friends world wide as a result of his art and outgoing personality.
The first large project was “Atlantis” at Fiesta Island in San Diego in 1997. He has been featured in a Best Buy commercial, Oprah commissioned a sculpture in Nassau for “O” Magazine. He and his daughter Christy and his ex-wife and partner Sandy Feet built a 12 foot tall sculpture for the cover of Texas Monthly magazine.
Another thing he is noted for is starting the Sons of the Beach. He often bills himself as the “Old SOB (Son of the Beach) Himself”. He is the self declared Grand Poobah and as such often elicits pledges from those wishing to join the SOB to “unlitter.” In 1985 he launched the Unlitter Campaign. The Sons of the Beach pledge is: “I promise to have fun!…Help others have fun!..and Unlitter!” (To Unlitter is to properly dispose of more garbage than you generate.) The pledge has been taken by an incalculable number of people.
Amazin Walter is 73 years old and is beginning to also bill himself as “The oldest sand sculptor in captivity.” He has talked for the last ten years of retiring. The art of sculpting sand involves often moving tons of wet sand with a bucket and shovel. He has not shown signs of slowing down very much. He and partner John Gowdy recently entered the 26th Annual American Sand Sculpting Championships in Fort Myers Beach, Florida in the doubles division. Their entry “The coldest sand sculpture in captivity” won First Place in the division, and also the People’s Choice Award, and the Sculptor’s Choice Award. This year’s attendance was between 50 and 80,000.
When he is not sculpting in the sand he can often be seen riding around South Padre on one of his eclectic bicycles, performing magic, acting as a clown for tourists and at parties, singing and playing music in one of the local beach night spots, and enjoying life in general.
In the 1970s in Dallas he played with “The Corduroy Cowboy Company”, an outlaw band. Their music has been inducted in the Texas Music Hall of Fame. Three years ago he and joined an informal group that performs as the Saturn Street Strummers. The primary instrument is the ukulele .
After he became an accomplished sand sculptor, he turned his talents to sculpting and crafting other media. He creates jewelry out of precious metals and semi-precious stones. He also works in antler, bone and ivory.
It is not unusual to find him riding one of his bicycles around town dressed as a clown, or maybe a pirate, juggling, or performing magic tricks fooling people into thinking that they are having the time of their life. Amazin Walter enjoys life and his mission is to help others enjoy life. His daughter, Christy, followed his footsteps. She is a graduate of the Clown College of the Ringling Brothers Circus and spent several years travelling with that circus. She is now on South Padre, often working with her dad and also as the event director for Schlitterbahn on South Padre Island.
“At sunrise on November 30 morning Laurie and I got married on the beach at Key West…Think eloped…hold the applause! Our Key West vacation became our honeymoon and fun is being had,” said McDonald. “I’ve led a charmed life. It’s not only been easy, but also fun; or maybe I don’t remember the bad times. I’m really lucky; I live in paradise with good friends.”