The Sand Palace

Self-discipline and sacrifice far in excess of society’s moral code will keep us strong



In the late 1980s, a friend and I rode a trolley south from San Diego to the Imperial Beach sandcastle contest. After a short walk from the station, we stood before a packed crowd assembled around various castle projects. Some were 10-feet square and upwards of seven feet high, with intricate construction details. The amazing sights had me recalling my childhood imaginings of fairy tale castles. The last contest was in 2019, before the pandemic prohibited large crowds. All those sandcastle projects built over 30 years had crumbled in the tides.

What brought this event to mind was a news clip about the 2019 hurricane devastation of a small town on Florida’s panhandle. Of the 1,692 buildings there, most were damaged and 884 were destroyed. In a media photo, it looked like a war zone.

One beachfront house stood intact, named by its owners The Sand Palace. A Category 5 hurricane — with 160 mph winds and 15-foot waves — pounded it, but that house survived with only a damaged exterior fan and one layer of a double-pane storm window broken. Most surrounding homes were roofless or utterly destroyed.

A YouTube interview with the owners reveals how the home withstood the storm. They were determined to build their dream house far exceeding the building code, so it could weather up to 250 mph winds. They spent a year scrutinizing every detail, then met with contractors who often tried to dissuade them from the extra cost and effort. Niceties like French doors, balconies, and windows more susceptible to wind damage were sacrificed. This was their family legacy for future generations, so nothing was left to chance. They spent 20% more money for rock-embedded concrete throughout. Steel-reinforced girders resting on 12-foot stilts extended from pilings driven 28 feet deep. Cables rose through its walls to its unique concrete roof, continuing down the other side.

The majority of owners around them paid for typical construction of flimsy but magnificent “castles” built to satisfy the local 1992 building code, which required only 120 mph wind criteria. The town code allowed vinyl clapboard nailed to plywood backer board, and the typical roof of asphalt shingles over wood joists. But the father-son team at The Sand Palace anticipated the worst case and built their house accordingly.

We are each building for ourselves a spiritual house. The proper foundation of a solid Christian life, one that can weather the worst storm, is found in study of the Gospel—not just in reading the Word but in daily acting upon it.

Onlookers may disparage the high personal cost of doing so. In the end, our extraordinary self-discipline and sacrifice, far in excess of society’s moral code, will keep us strong amid the inevitable trials and tribulations.

“Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the torrents raged, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because its foundation was on rock.…” (Matt 7:24).


Richard M. DellOrfano spent ten years on a cross-country pilgrimage following Christ’s instruction to minister without possessions. He is completing his autobiography: Path Perilous, My Search for God and the Miraculous.

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