DESTIN — They say everything happens for a reason. When the Great Recession in 2008 forced Rick Mungeam to give up his architectural firm, he wasn’t sure what to do.
Now the owner of a successful sand-sculpture business, he can look back with gratitude.
In 2010, Mungeam and his wife, Capri, sold the home the had designed and built in Colorado, purchased an RV and hit the road.
“We decided to go out and figure out the next chapter of our lives,” he said.
Since it was winter, they went south and ended up in South Padre Island, Texas, where Rick began to learn the basics of sand sculpting.
“For me, I was still designing, but it was in a different medium,” he said.
In March 2011, the couple got their first taste of Destin.
“We came over the bridge from Okaloosa Island into Destin and we were just blown away by how unbelievable the water was,” Rick said.
They set up camp at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park and soon began volunteering at the park as well. A fellow volunteer noticed Mungeam’s talent for making sand sculptures and suggested he start teaching lessons at the park. In a matter of a couple of weeks, Mungeam had 30-40 people in his class.
But it wasn’t until a few weeks later that Mungeam decided to make a business out of it. He had crafted a sandcastle with a heart on it at Grayton Beach State Park when a wedding party asked to use it in a wedding and later, photographers were asking to use it in their pictures.
“A lightbulb kind of went off and I said, ‘All these guys are getting paid for what they’re doing, but where’s my cut?’” Mungeam said, chuckling at the memory. “That’s when we decided to make a business out of it.
Beach Sand Sculptures was born.
Before long, he and his wife were teaching 12 lessons a week and were having to constantly turn groups away because they were at capacity. So they began hiring and training others to build their sand sculptures. Now, they hire 15-20 people every year and say they have become the world’s largest sandcastle lesson company.
“A lot of people, when they start a business, have a plan,” Mungeam said. “We didn’t have that, it just started happening. We’ve really been blessed by it.”
During the summer, Mungeam and his team teach up to 26 lessons a day. The two-hour lesson takes place on any beach the customer chooses. Prices begin at $220 for a group of one to five people.
Along with sandcastle building, his team also teaches about sea turtles and how sand in the water works.
Mungeam said he loves when families take a class together.
“The cell phones go away because they’re playing in the sand,” he said. “They all work together to create something.”
Although he doesn’t see retirement in his near future, Mungeam said he and his wife, who runs marketing for the business, are trying to step back a bit. He primarily does special projects now, whether that be a 3-ton marriage proposal sculpture in Mexico or a 20-ton Makers Mark bottle in Saint Louis.
Even though he didn’t know it yet, it appears as though his subconscious knew that sand would eventually become an important part of his life .
“When I was doing architecture and traveling, I would collect sand samples,” he said. “I don’t know why, I just did. So I have this huge collection of sand from around the world and it’s kind of ironic that I have a sand company now.”
Mungeam plans to display the sand samples in his office.
For more information or to schedule a lesson, visit beachsandsculptures.com.