NEWPORT BEACH, Calif.—If you take a stroll down Newport Beach’s Balboa Island boardwalk on any given Saturday morning, as you come to Sapphire Street, you’re likely to come upon Chris Crosson, a businessman turned sandcastle guru, knee-deep in sand and water building his latest creation.
As a child, Crosson grew up on Sapphire Street, playing along the sandy shores of the man-made atoll, itself made from dredged sand pulled from Newport Harbor in 1905.
Like many other successful entrepreneurs, Crosson’s story started out with a big idea that ended up becoming something that he didn’t intend. However, his version of that story could be considered slightly unusual—it began with dog waste.
In 1988, after witnessing one too many people step in the dog waste that littered the sidewalks and sand of his beloved neighborhood, he set out to tackle the poop problem by creating a small portable cardboard dispenser with little bags inside that dog owners could easily carry with them to use when nature calls for their furry friends.
The boxes didn’t take off with consumers, but the bags did. He pivoted the business’s focus, and his invention of necessity—a solution to aid pet owners in cleaning up after their dogs and keep communities cleaner—became Doggie Walk Bags. Crosson would go on to land contracts with Petco and other large-scale clients around the world, establishing a multi-million dollar business in the multi-billion dollar pet products industry.
A Marketing Tool
In 1994, Crosson decided to put together a company team and enter the annual Corona del Mar Sandcastle Contest as a clever way to market Doggie Walk Bags. Employees and friends built a small dog with a large pile of “nuisance” behind it and handed out Doggie Walk Bag samples to the crowd. They had so much fun during the event that it soon became an annual company tradition.
“Our sculpture themes always revolved around dogs, and we’d have a dispenser and bags to hand out,” Crosson said. “Year after year, we enjoyed the bonding experience of creating a giant sandcastle or sculpture. Over time, both the company and our sand creations grew larger.”
Eventually, building sandcastles to promote Doggie Walk Bags turned into another new business venture when Crosson developed sandcastle kits—used at events such as Boy and Girl Scout troop outings, birthday parties, and even executive corporate team-building meetings.
In 2010, Crosson decided to devote his Saturday mornings to perfecting his designs, learning to understand the sand and structural techniques that work best. For larger creations, he employs plastic molds that he fills with sand and water to create a sturdy base from which to build.
“I’m not at all artistic, despite what people think,” Crosson told The Epoch Times. “I don’t really plan out what I’m going to build. It sounds cliché, but really, the sand kind of tells you which way to go, what you can and can’t do.”
His practice has paid off, and while the sandcastle kits have been a success, Crosson began receiving more and more requests from companies and individuals to build sandcastles for everything from advertising shoots to celebrations of life.
“One family has me come every year to help them build a sand sculpture in remembrance of Bill, the family patriarch,” Crosson said. “One year, we built a huge whale on the beach and carved ‘For Bill—A Life Whale Lived.’”
In 2016, Crosson’s daughter had a son, and she asked him why the company wasn’t selling their bags to parents as a way to deal with dirty diapers. In fact, he told her that when she was a baby, they would test Doggie Walk Bags with her dirty diapers. They decided to launch Oh Baby Bags, the next generation of Crosson family products designed to make parents’ lives easier.
When asked if he’s had a favorite sand creation over the years, Crosson said one design in particular stands out because of his mother-in-law’s reaction.
“One Easter, I built a sculpture of three rear-ends and carved ‘Happy Keaster’ on it,” he said. “Her reaction was, ‘How could you? On the Lord’s holiest of days!’”
Of all the sandcastles and sculptures he’s built, Crosson said his tribute to Tommy Lasorda, who passed away in January 2021, has been his most popular creation with fans on social media.
During the pandemic, Crosson tried to create some levity through his beach sculptures, including one of a huge stack of toilet paper rolls reading “Let It Roll” and another with three pairs of bare feet that read “Six Feet of Separation.” He only missed one Saturday during the COVID-19 shutdowns, the one after Governor Newsom closed all California beaches.
Crosson said these days, sandcastle building allows him to tap into a hobby that’s both relaxing and provides him with a great workout.
“I always tell people they are welcome to come down any Saturday morning and help shovel sand for a little while,” he said. “You’ll realize how much sand actually has to be moved and it’s a great hip, arms, legs workout.
“It’s nice to chat with out-of-town visitors and local residents as I’m building. I get to explain what I’m doing and talk to kids who want to learn how to build sandcastles. It’s a simple pastime that is simply very rewarding.”