Dubai: It must have been a curious sight at first - a lone figure methodically raking sand on Dubai's public beach for hours on stretch.
"Some people think I'm looking for gold. Others think I'm cleaning the beach," Dubai-based artist Nathaniel Alapide tells Gulf News #Pinoy with a guffaw.
But what he really does is a job no one else in the UAE has: he's a sand artist.
Videography by Sonia Abbas Shah
Alapide has been using Dubai's beachfronts as a giant canvas for his unique art for several years now. He’s also made his mark in Muscat in Oman, and in the islands of Siargao and Boracay in the Philippines.
Where can he be spotted in sand art mode in Dubai? “The Black Palace beach close to the Palm, Sunset Beach close to Jumeirah Beach Hotel, and Kite Beach,” he said.
His unique artwork has drawn a lot of attention, allowing the Filipino to also get commissioned works for his more traditional art. He has worked with shops for modern art on interiors, exteriors and furniture and has been invited to several art shows, the most recent of which is the Showcase Gallery opening in Al Serkal on May 9 where he is the only Filipino in a group of 11 UAE-based artist showcasing their unique art forms.
The tree that started in all
He stumbled into sand art almost by accident, he told #Pinoy. His grandmother died in 2014 and he wanted to give her a tribute. “She pretty much raised me,” he said. So he grabbed a rake and headed to the public beach in Jumeirah and started sketching on the sand.
"I made a big drawing of a tree," he said, saying it was very symbolic of his grandmother's giving nature. “While I was creating that, I found it very meditative,” he said, adding that it took him three hours to complete the sand art. The result surprised him.
"It started from there," he said.
From feeding sharks to drawing on sand
Alapide, who was then an aquarist for a popular five-star hotel in Dubai, said he enjoyed creating sand art so much it became a hobby. He would be seen heading to the beach on his day off or any chance he could get, waiting for the perfect low tide to create his next masterpiece.
His full-time job was also unique. He got to swim with the sharks and stingrays that he also feeds in a giant tank while visitors looked on. But it was sand art that had a different pull.
“One day I got a call and the guy on the other line said, ‘Do you want to do this full time?” he said. The call was from Jumeirah Beach Hotel.
Alapide admitted he took his time before making a career move. “I had to think for a month because I was trying to balance [everything]. It's fun to take risks, but you have to take calculated risks as well,” he said.
It was a risk that paid off and he became the iconic hotel’s resident sand artist, sharing his art to groups of people who like to learn the art, as well as creating sand art memories for guests. He starts his day at 8am, doing sand art in the morning and afternoon when the tide is low, and interacting with hotel guests in between.
Creating his own job
He still finds it surreal, never imagining he would one day make a full-time job of art that he loves to do.
And he has created a niche for himself, effectively creating his own job.
“I wasn't really planning on creating a job for myself but I just followed what I loved doing,” he said.
“I love doing what I do, creating things for people to share but at the same time I would get messages from other people who say I've inspired them. Knowing that you inspired people by doing what you love is really rewarding. I feel lucky and
grateful,” he said.
What was the most memorable comment he has received?
“I was at the beach and creating my art when this old lady from Russia came up to me and said, ‘Ah, you make this beach special’,” he shared.
He plans on doing a sand art tour in the Philippines' most pristine beaches from June, when he heads home for a break. He also plans to take his art to the US.
“Art really brings people together,” he said.