The contest drew a record 33 entries.
YOUNGSTOWN -- OK, so why a Komodo dragon?
"We wanted something that would be different from anything else here," said John Drabison, 21, of Austintown, applying a few last strokes of a putty knife to an 8-foot-long sand sculpture of the Asian reptile.
His friend, Marissa Koby, 18, of Canfield, sprinkled green glitter all over their artwork for the finishing touch. "We wanted something that was larger than life," she said. "Or just as large."
The two Ohio State University students teamed to win the grand prize in the 13th annual Sunfest sand sculpture contest at the Wick Recreation Area in Mill Creek Park.
"It looks really strange to step back from a distance and see it," Koby said. "When you're right there working on it, the perspective is different. It came together pretty well."
"The last half-hour was pretty frantic," Drabison said.
The contest drew a record 33 entries, said Tom Bresko, the park's recreation director.
Each group of contestants started with about a ton of sand, which they could wet down with water hoses. Contestants were allowed to use any kind of tool and could decorate their creation with paint or objects. They had about two-and-a-half hours to put their sculpture together.
"It's a performance art. You can do pretty much anything in this," said Laurie Arntz-Tournoux of Louisville, a professional sculptor and carver who led a workshop on sand sculpture before the contest started.
"The key is the mix of water and sand."
And from there, the last ingredient is imagination. The theme of the contest was animals, and contestants cited a variety of sources as inspiration.
Stana Franklin, 11, and Tony Scharshu, 10, of Hubbard sculpted "Finding Nemo" characters using the cover of a DVD box as the model. James Franklin and Nick Pedalin, 13, used a figure from a video game to sculpt a panther at rest.
Paisley Kennedy, 15, and Jenn Demler, 14, both of Austintown, used a picture in a coloring book -- tattered and wet by the end of the sculpting -- to recreate the lion from the movie, "Madagascar."
"It fell apart a few times, and we spent a lot of time putting it back together," Paisley said. "We saw the movie and liked it."
Roseann and Perry Toth of Austintown, and daughter, Samantha, won the Open Division prize for their sculpture, "Running Horse."
"We owned horses for 10 years," Roseann Toth said. "We sold them last year and we miss them."
Their sculpture, spray-painted with white spots to represent an Appaloosa, wore real tack, saddle and blanket.
"He forgot the horseshoes," Roseann Toth said with a smile at her husband. Some contestants even had a message.
"I wanted to do something psychedelic," said Kathy Quigley, 13, about her sculpture, "The Hopeful Plea of the World," which features a turtle with a 1960s-style peace sign on its back.
"I was going to do flowers in the shape of the peace sign, but changed it around when I found out the theme was animals."
She also added a starfish.
And even when it didn't exactly work out as planned, the contestants said that was fine by them.
"Ours is sort of whatever you want it to be, whatever you want it to look like," said Wilma DePiore of Boardman, who created "Tornado" with Justine Hill of Austintown.
The sculpture represents a town with a swath cleared through the middle of it by a tornado.
"Now it just looks like a pyramid in Egypt," Hill said. "But the main thing was we had fun."