The selfless sand sculptor

By Tayla Larsen

A two-metre sculpted wizard sits up in the green hills of Noosa Heads. It’s not a tourist attraction nor part of an art display, it’s simply guarding Dennis Massoud’s home. An unconventional greeter for a man with an unconventional lifestyle.

Not many people can say their job has taken them to China, Denmark and Abu Dhabi, and even fewer people can say their passion has.

Putting his attention to detail and experience to good use, Dennis attends 120 festivals a year to showcase his sand sculptures to those unfamiliar with the art.

Twenty-eight years ago, the Noosa local decided to dedicate himself to sand sculpting full-time and has been wowing crowds with his work ever since. He says people who were terminally ill have sat beside him many times for hours watching him work.

“It’s therapeutic for me but it’s also therapeutic to the people who are watching it,” he says. “I didn’t realise that and they were saying to me they hadn’t used any morphine at all, so it’s pretty special.”

Dennis first found his love of sand sculpting at age six. It began with him selling bottled sand designs and eventually turned into him carving faces into the sand dunes at Noosa. As his quirky childhood pastime evolved into a popular tourist attraction, he has come to appreciate the importance of teaching the next generation.

Dennis creates a dragon with a castle on its back at the Cooroy Fusion Festival. Photo: Tayla Larsen

At festivals, he sets up a small table lined with sand and tools for children to participate while he moulds away. He says it gives him an incredible feeling to see his work inspiring children.

“It’s amazing you can be at the beach creating a sand sculpture and before long you’ve got 20 children all of a sudden and they’re off and they’re building,” he says. “You might have built a dragon and they’re trying to build one as well … it’s good to see.”

At 65, Dennis has led an unusual life thanks to his career choice and carefree lifestyle. It seems he now has the work-life balance down pat, but it hasn’t always been this way.

As a photographer, Dennis worked six to seven days a week, leaving little time to see his family. One morning as he was rushing out the door with his camera equipment, his young son Luke spotted him which led to an eye-opening exchange. Speaking about the moment he chose to give photography a back seat, the contagious energy he exudes is temporarily replaced with heartbreak.

“It was very sad the way he said it [goodbye] and I was choking back tears when I went back to the car and I thought this can’t go on: he’s not going to know me if I keep going the way that I’m going,” he says.

If he’s not at festivals Dennis is sculpting along Noosa Main Beach. Photo: Tayla Larsen

He began dedicating his weekends to his son and each day Luke just wanted to build sand sculptures with his dad. And so began the process of turning a hobby into a career.

It was a rather easy process, as it turn out. All Dennis had to do was sculpt and people began dropping money into his bucket, something he didn’t expect and describes as “lucrative”.

This eventually led to reaching his first major career milestone, the World Championships of Sand Sculpting. He entered the competition as the underdog with nothing more than a satay skewer and was taken to the hardware store to purchase appropriate tools. He says he felt out of his depth and was favoured for last place, but managed to come sixth out of 14 international competitors. But the roar from the crowd was larger for him than it was the winner. Dennis could not believe the attention he was receiving for coming sixth.

“They announced on stage in front of quite a few thousand people that they had thrown me in cold turkey into this international event and normally you need six years’ experience in the hard compact sculpting … I hadn’t had any of that,” he says.

But even while sweating away amid 300 tonnes of sand in the Gobi Desert, Dennis wasn’t thinking about the accolades and prizes. They are at the bottom of his accomplishments.

He instead uses his work as a form of meditation for himself and others. Dennis says sculpting also provides a great life lesson and teaches people not to take life too seriously.

“It’s not permanent, it’s extremely fragile and ephemeral,” he says. “When you’ve done something really beautiful and you’re really happy with it and then it just collapses or the wind takes it away, it sort of reinforces the fact that we’re not permanent. We’re only here for a short time so let’s not get bogged down in trivia.”

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