By Dale Larabee | SDUN Guest Columnist
One Sunday in April, while many Uptowners were shoveling through tax-code jargon, 24 loonies chose instead to shovel holes in the beach in Coronado. They paid $25 for the chance to dig deep and win … a shovel.
Competitors aged 3 to 72 dug with plastic shovels, long-handled trench diggers and bare hands. Most arrived barefoot in shorts; a young girl sported cheetah pants and a 3 year old wore a Ninja Warrior headband. All diggers met on a blustery, cold day for the second yearly Urt Hole Digging Competition: “One Person One Shovel.”
The Dig is the brainchild of Ian Urtkowski and his business partner Dougie Mann, who own Urt, a Coronado clothing and ocean activity company. Urt? The throaty bark of a sea lion. “Urt” is also the sound some competitors made while shoveling sand heading for, where exactly?
“China” grunted one competitor. Adults, called Iron Shovelers, excavated 10 minutes, as did the Purists, or those who scooped sand with bare hands. The six younger competitors dug for five minutes in the Plastic Shovel division, and all competitors had only one goal: to dig the deepest hole.
Urtkowski, a summer lifeguard – and Coronado resident since age 2 – said he loves Coronado beaches. “Beaches are for digging,” he told me. “Urt doesn’t cater to sun bathers.”
The idea of digging a hole in the beach – add to that a healthy dose of completion – is ideal for the Urt gang. Local lifeguard Damon Bassett won the Iron Shovel division last year, and it was evident that Navy’s Charlie Wurzelbacher had Bassett in his sights. “Damon got married, maybe that softened him up,” Wurzelbacher said as he staked his claim to a digging spot far removed from Bassett.
But first, the children set a trend. On the word “go,” Wren Farley, our Ninja Warrior, began to heave sand everywhere sending his parents running for cameras and the rest just running. The winner, who looked to be 7 or 8, dug 15 inches to walk off with first place.
Next, the Iron Shovelers dug less than 20 yards from Ocean Boulevard, a football field and, of course, the ocean, yet before their 10 minutes were up, Wurzelbacher and Bassett dug so deep they were hitting water. “Coronado beach is like a sand bar,” Urtkowski told me. “Last year we dug for 15 minutes, and when I dug a practice hole, I knew we needed to shorten the time this year.”
Wurzelbacher nosed out Bassett for the 2013 Iron Shovel Prize; lifeguard Jake Dressler tied Jeff Larabee for third. The Purists, including Grace Dressler and Regina Weeks, looked at their nails when finished and grimaced.
I finished last, a distant last. A friend asked if I was going back next year and when I told him yes, he asked why.
“’Cause I dig it.”
—Dale Larabee is a 40-year resident of Kensington, who is an occasional writer for local newspapers.