(CNN) – People have been making marks in the sand throughout history. For some, it’s a meditative practice. For most, it’s a way to sign your name on a vacation beach. For Dubai-based Filipino artist Nathaniel Alapide, that’s how he became a Guinness World Record holder.
Dubai’s 72 kilometers (45 miles) of sun-drenched beaches and the vast Arabian desert are its canvas. Using just a simple garden rake, every morning (after checking weather, wind and tide reports) Alapide, 45, draws enormous calligraphic strokes on beaches and deserts, presenting huge and intricate designs that are soon erased by wind or waves.
“I try to imagine the rake as a brush,” he said. “When you move it at a certain angle, it will give a different stroke, a thin line.”
The average drawing for Alapide is about 20 meters (66 ft) square. “Sometimes I’ll do a job that takes an hour,” he said. “Or sometimes I work for hours every day to prepare.”
When he included a written message, the pieces could be over 100 meters long.
Alapaid’s sand art began in 2014, when he sketched a sand tree in the shadow of the iconic wave-shaped Jumeirah Beach Hotel, on Umm Suqeem Beach, as a tribute to his late grandmother.
The scale of the drawing impressed the hotel, which offered him his first full-time job as a sand artist in 2015.
Alapide tree since 2014.
Since then, he has graced the sands of the UAE with around 1,900 drawings. He has been commissioned by major brands such as Burberry and Adidas and created a piece for National Geographic for the series “The UAE from above”.
The UAE government even used Alapide’s work to turn the beach into a public service announcement to inform people about the Covid restrictions, with a giant slogan reading “#STAY HOME” visible from the sky.
A ephemeral artifact
In 2022, Alapide set a new record for the world’s largest sand sculpture. The drawing, measuring more than 23,000 square meters (250,000 square feet), was created by the Abu Dhabi Aviation Club and shown to the rulers of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). It took 30 days and required 12,000 tons of sand in four colors sourced from the UAE desert.
Although he has built a career out of the practice, Alapide says creating art from sand is not without its challenges.
“On the 20th day of building the world-record piece, we were about 70% done, but then the weather happened,” he said. “It was raining, and the wind was so strong, it almost wiped out the whole piece.”
“I think that’s why I find this kind of work interesting,” he added. “Because it’s ephemeral, it’s fleeting. It’s like a ritual for me now, like morning prayer. I work on something in the morning and by the evening it’s gone with the tide”
Alapide says the temporary nature of his work reminds him that everything is constantly changing, especially in a city like Dubai.
One of Alapide’s dramatic creations, opposite the coast.
“When people see sand art, they see both beauty and loss,” Alapide said. “The beauty in the work and then the loss when it’s gone.”
“I think making sand art is a great way to connect with people,” he added. “I like to see how people interact with the work and I find that children notice drawings more than adults. I think it’s because they are more aware of their environment. For adults, we can be blinded by our own lives and our busy days.”