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Arts & Entertainment

Kirk Maxson’s TikToks of Ocean Beach sandcastles have become an ‘oddly satisfying’ viral sensation

Kirk Maxson drips wet sand onto his sandcastle at Ocean Beach in San Francisco on September 28, 2022. The lives of Maxson’s sandcastles are fleeting, subject to the tides as they fluctuate. | Morgan Ellis/The Standard

Take a walk along Ocean Beach and you might encounter Kirk Maxson constructing his kingdom on the coastline. His castles, constructed of dripping spires of sand, barricade against shallow pools of sea foam. 

It’s an ephemeral form of art. When the tides rush in, the sand castles are gone. But Maxson’s are immortal, preserved online for his 1.7 million TikTok followers. 

Maxson has lived in the city for 30 years. He cut his teeth in the ’90s as a part of the Mission School, a movement influenced by the aesthetics of that neighborhood's mural culture. His sculptures—uniquely etched gold leaves fashioned into crowns and wings—have even adorned runway models at the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.

But Maxson’s newest audience is a rather unexpected one. What started out as a childhood habit has become viral #oddlysatisying #asmr online content. His simple videos typically depict the same repetitive action: A hand dips into a puddle of wet sand before moving to a new tower, where it drops a trickle of silty cement to create a spire. The clips generally get tens of thousands of views, sometimes reaching the millions. 

“It's not something that's getting attention because it's derisive or divisive or shocking. It's the opposite,” Maxson said. “It reminds people of their childhood. And it's calming.”

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