SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (KRON) — California’s coastline keeps getting sledgehammered by atmospheric rivers that have left residents wondering when January’s storms will end.

Santa Cruz County’s beautiful beaches look like disaster zones with destruction from flooding, monster ocean waves, tide surges and wind. Capitola was hit hard when its wharf split in half, homes flooded, and oceanfront restaurants were thrashed.

During a recent lull between storms, storm-weary Capitola residents wandered down to their beloved beach and discovered something unexpected. A man was bounding across the sand with a rake. For hours, he artistically carved the word “persevere” hundreds of times in a giant, geometric, Zen-inspiring design.

Brighton Denevan enjoys a quiet moment surrounded by his creation. (Courtesy: Brighton Denevan)

Stormy waves periodically washed away a section of sand he was working on. But Brighton Denevan, 30, of Santa Cruz, appeared unfazed and continued raking.

“I had my headphones in. I was very focused, going as fast as I could. The drawing is like a big dance,” Denevan told News 2’s sister station, KRON.

When Denevan finally finished at sunset, a crowd watching from the cliff broke into applause. One man said, “Anybody could have done that. But that guy went out there and did it.”

Denevan, as it turns out, is a professional sand artist who devotes his days to drawing public art displays on California beaches. Watching drone videos of Denevan’s creative process, it’s clear that he feels harmony with nature, even in the middle of a storm.

Capitola Beach (Image courtesy Brighton Denevan)

He was back out with his rake on January 5 by the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk despite wind and rain.

“It was crazy. There were still storm surges coming over the beach. The energy of the day pushed me to do a really big one. The drawing was erased several times while I was making it. A lot of people were watching me and my work getting destroyed over and over again,” he said

ocean and sand
(Courtesy: Brighton Denevan)

Creation and destruction are intertwined in sand art — Denevan’s designs are erased by high tides.

His design by the Boardwalk looked like a Japanese Zen garden combined with geometry.

“Ironically, I didn’t get very far in math. I think I failed geometry,” he laughed. 

On Tuesday, he returned to the same beach with a fresh blank slate thanks to the tides. Denevan decided on writing “revival” as the next message of hope.

“A cold wind was blowing. The drawing conditions were not good with debris covering the beach (with) stuff that had washed out of the river and covered the beach. I had to spend extra time working my way through the debris, on a small strip of usable sand. The tide wasn’t even very low. Somehow I was still happy to be out there, enjoying this project despite the challenges, though certainly looking forward to easier days ahead,” he wrote.

On Monday the artist drew “eternal” hundreds of times between mountains of drift wood and storm debris next to Seacliff State Beach’s storm-battered pier. The majority of the pier collapsed during a storm generated by a “bomb cyclone” and atmospheric river last week.

The artist documents his work with a drone and shares the dazzling, calm-inducing footage on social media.

(Courtesy: Brighton Denevan)

Denevan said he’s been drawing since he was a child. “Since I was five-years-old, I draw on paper for hours and hours.” In 2020, he picked up a rake instead of a pen, and completed his first artwork on a beach. “Sand is new, it’s a different medium (that’s) really exciting to me. I have all these ideas built up.”

Between November and December of 2022, he completed 28 drawings across 237 miles of beaches.

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Denevan is walking in his father’s sandy footsteps. He and his father, a lifelong sand artist, have traveled to beaches as far away as Colombia and Saudi Arabia.

(Courtesy: Brighton Denevan)

California is forecast to be walloped by three more atmospheric rivers this January. Denevan said he will continue spreading messages of hope and inspiration along the Golden State’s coast, rain or shine.