A sand sculpture of a stack of books was constructed for the grand opening of the Miramar Library and Learning Resource Center

Since 1991, Daniel Gutowski, pictured with hat, has been creating large-scale sand sculptures in competitions and for special events, including the 2012 grand opening of the Library and Learning Resource Center and Veteran's Day at Miramar College.

More than a grain of creativity 

April 12, 2024 | San Diego Community College District

In case you’re wondering what an internet pirate, a Foster Farms chicken, Tonka trucks, and a stack of books outside a newly opened library have in common, it’s Daniel Gutowski.  
Since 1991, Gutowski, the Miramar College Facilities and Operations director, has been meticulously sculpting— ton by ton and grain by grain — such imaginative, often whimsy, and award-winning sand sculptures all over the country.  

“It’s a great creative outlet,” said Gutowski, who has worked for the San Diego Community College District since 2000 in various positions from swimming pool supervisor to park coordinator and various interim positions. “It’s something that adds to your thought process since you have to think three-dimensionally. It’s also an art that often requires physical endurance.”  

He and a team of friends who go by “The Sand Squirrels” have participated on the centerstage of the U.S. Open Sandcastle Competition and for TV shows like “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” and the Travel Channel’s “Sand Blasters,” in addition to creating works of art for wedding proposals, in Las Vegas hotel lobbies, and for grand openings like the 2012 Library and Learning Resource Center at Miramar College.  

Dan Gutowski left directs the construction of a sand sculpture for veterans day. The sculpture is of a soldier's head with a helmet and a sand wall with stars carved into it.
Dan Gutowski, left, directs the construction of a sand sculpture at Miramar College for Veteran's Day.

The creations he works on often start as a 20-ton pile of sand — quarry sand is ideal, according to Gutowski — and end in extremely detailed masterpieces that can eclipse 15-feet-tall. The earlier mentioned pirate was a reference to a delicately carved entry that depicted computer screens and pirates with eye patches, officially dubbed “Pirates of the Internet,” which the Sand Squirrels created in a nod to the Napster music piracy era. The entry captured first place during the 2003 U.S. Open Sandcastle Competition held in Imperial Beach in front of a crowd of some 200,000 people in addition to being debuted on CNN Worldwide and mentioned in The New York Times. The $5,000 prize money earned, like many of the team’s winnings, was donated to youth programs.  

One wouldn’t immediately connect the dots between the skills honed in the practice of sand sculpting and those necessary for a management position as a facilities and operations director, but Gutowski thinks otherwise.  

“Having a great physical and creative outlet just allows you to do more,” he said. “You’re willing to take more risk, you’re able to function at a higher capacity. My roles as a sculptor and in a professional capacity are complementary.”  

In addition to his sculpting pastime, it’s also worth noting that Gutowski took a turn as a Miramar College water polo player. Having competed on the inaugural Miramar College water polo team in 2000, a remaining year of eligibility allowed him to return to the pool as a Jet in 2021.  

If you’re ever in a Zoom meeting with Gutowski when his camera is off, you’ll find a sand sculpture in place of his face — it is in his identity, after all. “If someone told me to go pack sand, I’d take it as a compliment.” 


A sand sculpture of a stack of books one man is working on the sculpture and two people are watching.

Dan Gutowski, right, oversees the construction of a sand sculpture for the grand opening
of the Library and Learning Resource Center at Miramar College in 2012.


A sand sculpture for Veterans Day shows the Miramar College logo

Dan Gutowski, left, makes some finishing touches on the sand sculpture for Veteran's Day.


A sand sculpture for veterans day shows a soldiers head wearing a helmet. A wall of sand has stars carved into it.

A sand sculpture for Veteran's Day at Miramar College.


5 people at a fair sit in front of 2 sand sculptures. One show a man on a throne with a helmet and a cape and the other is a sand castle on top of a globe.

The Sand Squirrels!

Subscribe to newscenter

Upcoming Events

More Events