The annual contest in Corona del Mar brings unique form of family fun to the beach.

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Theresa Laos puts the final touches on a two-part sand scupture depicting an anxious couple racing away from a haunted castle, above. The 52nd Annual Sandcastle Contest was held at Big Corona State Beach Sunday. This was the 18th year

NEWPORT BEACH – Chris Crosson carefully etched the moist sand using a small detailing tool the size of a pencil, gingerly creating a staircase that wound its way up a sandy, spooky castle.

Two helpers held an 8-foot ladder to keep Crosson from toppling over onto his 12-foot-tall creation.

Top two sandcastle winners

Most unique overall: Team Kayley and Da Peeps, creation of a shark and octopus

Most unique castle: Team ASCE, dungeon and pumpkins sandcastle

“It’s a day at the beach with friends,” said Crosson, sweating under a straw hat that shaded him from the strong sun. “It doesn’t get much better than this. It’s therapeutic.”

The 52nd annual Corona del Mar Sandcastle Contest took place on the shore Sunday, bringing family, friends and team-building groups together to create artwork out of sand. This year’s theme was haunted castles.

It was a picture-perfect day with no clouds in sight and water sparkling just steps away from the sandcastle builders, all of whom were focused and determined.

Event Chairman George Lesley said there were strict rules during the building. There are only eight people allowed in the building area at a time. As the clock nears 11 a.m., teams can pick out a spot on the sand and get it wet, but can’t start building until the clock hits 11. There were 28 teams competing.

“They just come out here and have fun on one of the most beautiful beaches around,” Lesley said.

Crosson was nervous about whether or not the layers of the castle would hold up. They didn’t; the top layers of the castle came crumbling down.

Josh McCool was shoveling heaps of sand 3 feet below the surface to make way for what was turning into a big whale. He remembers one year, when he was a kid, when organizers didn’t have enough competitors. They asked his family if they wanted to participate.

Now, they drive in from the Inland Empire and Los Angeles to keep the tradition going. This was their 20th year.

“We’ve been coming back ever since,” said McCool, now 32. “It’s just a fun family tradition.”

His team tries to bring humor to its creations. One year, it had a cow swimming with scuba gear, surrounded by sharks. It read: “scared milkless.” Then there was the year it made a shark with an arm sticking out, holding a cellphone. That one read: “Can you hear me now?”

This year, the team was creating trick-or-treating sea creatures.

He said the strategy was simply “breaking our backs.” Sometimes the team wins, sometimes it doesn’t.

“We don’t practice, we do this once a year,” he said. “It’s always a gamble, but it’s always a lot of fun.”