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Sand Art is his Drinking and Popping Pills

By Samantha Mythen
Wayne Allan Webb practices his sand art on Canterbury beaches in New Zealand.

He drives to the beach and sitting in his car, Wayne preps. 

Sometimes he’s paralysed by anxiety. 

He puts on his headphones, and sets a playlist. 

He puts on a big black beanie. 

His shaded sunglasses. 

He hits the sand.

Music on, turned up loud.

It drowns out external noise and internal thoughts. It allows him to sway. Reggae, Drum and Bass. Camo MC, Coldplay Eminem. Tiki Taane. Randy Travis.

He’s in the zone and Wayne feels like he’s dancing around. The anxiety dissipates as pictures and words begin to form on the sand canvas beneath him.

“It’s just such a joy. It fills my spiritual bucket,” he said.

“I thought that morphine, heroin, and home-bake were the ultimate buzz. But they’re not, those things sap.” 

Wayne Allan Webb practices his sand art on Canterbury beaches in New Zealand.

The Beginning

For eight months in 2021, I was in sole charge of a community newspaper, printed weekly, covering the Banks Peninsula in Canterbury, New Zealand. The Banks Peninsula is made up of knolls and hummocks, rocky crags and an inky blue, sometimes chalky brown, body of water that spreads into bays and reaches long wet arms across stretches of sandy beaches.

At night, the land is set alight by kindling fireplaces, luminescent bulbs and moving car beacons, making living arteries connecting towns to villages to homes. I wrote about the people who lived and worked and walked this place. Having a scroll for stories one day, I was pondering over how journalism’s “putting in the legwork,” morphed into entrapment in the office.

Instead, I strain my eyes and work out my scrolling index finger. My eyes were grabbed by a photo of a quote. On closer inspection, this quote had been scripted from sand on a beach.

I clicked through the gallery of photos in the post - seeing swirling mandalas, curving letters, intricate patterns, and tessellated typography. My eyes lingered on a photo of a quietly smiling man, selfie-style with his art in the background.

Big black beanie.


Shaded sunglasses.

I looked up to see who had made the post.

Wayne Allan Webb.

The man in the photo. The artist. I wondered who he was…

Wayne's Story

We catch up in a local Christchurch cafe. Soft yet gruffly spoken, Wayne told me about the why behind his sand art.

“I create to balance my mental health,” he said. 

“I’ve learned later in life that it’s all very well to eat well. But if you don’t do your mental health well, and feed that well, then eating well doesn’t particularly matter.

Sure you may look good, but are you going to feel good, mentally.”

This contrasting character surprisingly shares saccharine and cheesy quotes on the beach, offering a special glimpse for a stranger to see into his gorgeously big heart.

Wayne was born in 1969.

He grew up in Shirley, Christchurch and in adult life found himself living on the West Coast. Wayne told me just over two years ago he was feeling suicidal. Extremely suicidal. 

“I thought my best option was to leave the world,” he said.

The suicide of his young friend was a mirror of Wayne’s own despair.

He started drinking when he was 14. He smoked weed when he was 17. Three days after turning 21, he was fully hooked on heroin. This continued for 13 and a half years.

“I was drinking three litres of vodka a day, on an average day. And that was homebrew, double-distilled vodka, it was crazy,” he said.

“And I was also popping about three to 400 codeine pills every few days. I didn't even think I was that wasted, I thought I had a bit of control going on. But of course, people outside could see that I was clearly on something and on a lot of something.”

In amongst this chaos, Wayne found himself at Greymouth Beach.

Looking out to the ocean he asked himself why he was making so many mistakes in his life.

“I was the one giving myself permission to drink and take drugs. I justified it and made up excuses in my head,” he said.

Wayne told me he didn’t sell his soul to the devil, he gave it away. “I allowed myself to go off the rails.”

He knew the addiction had to stop. Wayne checked himself into Greymouth Hospital and started speaking with an alcohol and drug counsellor. He worked on overcoming his addictions with the Salvation Army.

He moved back to Christchurch a few years ago. He stopped drinking and next was weaning himself off his medication. “I started to own my addiction,” he said.

Support from friends and his team at the DHB and Salvation Army helped Wayne remember he “was worth the air I breathe.” He was told he had the potential to help others. To make a difference in this world.

Wayne decided he wanted to get better so he could help others get better. He wants to be a peer support worker. “I felt like I could never beat my demons, but I did. I am. And I want to let other people know that they’re not stuffed, they are worthy,” he said.

“I want to take all this yucky shit and do something good with it.”

Wayne had always been fascinated by sand art.

He’d watched another prominent sand artist work their magic down on Brighton Beach before. The first mural Wayne ever created was a Kiwi, to promote Hey Bro, an online men’s support group he was involved with.“I had no idea what I was doing at the start.

I had no idea how to scratch the sand with my rake and I thought it would just look like a mess,” he said.

“But without a doubt, sand art has saved my life.”

Wayne told me he is well over two years sober now.

In the past, he used to count the days since his last drink or drug.

“I am a raging alcoholic. I’ll drink the flat beer, the beer that’s been in the sun, even on the turps… One was too many and 1000 is not enough.”

Wayne has been using sand art to empower himself. “I’ve always just wanted to feel like my 10-year-old self again,” he said.

His only worry then was whether he could wake up early enough to make a sandwich and then ride his BMX across town to see his mates for an adventure.

“I want that freedom again. To wake up in the morning with no vices like my younger self.”

Wayne told me he’s quite a spiritual guy. 

He thinks about things a lot, he wonders.

“I’m erratic at times. I’m all over the place. But beach art saved my ass. That’s a fact,” he said.

“I often feel like I’m thinking about five things at one time. It’s pretty busy up there. But the sand art calms that down. There are not many drugs I haven’t tried but nothing in this world calms me down as sand art does.”

Wayne says creating art is soothing soul food, allowing him to forget about the world, chill out and just enjoy the moment.

“It feels so great to be on the beach with the sand under my feet. I’m grateful the sea takes my artwork away when the tide comes in and I don’t have to clean it up,” he said.

“I get a fresh canvas every day and an automatic eraser. How cool is that.”

He’s always loved art but distracted by drugs and alcohol, art was never on the agenda. Until now.“

The medium of sand art is fascinating. I zone out, concentrate on what I’m doing and I’m watching the art literally evolve in front of me.”

He’s carved out soaring eagles, a kneeling soldier, a Ford RX Falcon and even Yoda. Wayne’s ideas are limited only by his imagination. He has also created many memorial murals, understanding art’s power as a healing tool, that keeps people’s spirits alive. 

Wayne told me before he starts his sand artwork, he’s usually feeling disheartened. This is why he heads out to create.

“Once I get out there, it’s a different thing. I feel sad. I feel happy. It just depends. But I always know when I come off the beach, I will feel better.”

It’s his new addiction.

“I have to do it, otherwise, I can’t function. But this is a pretty good drug. I’m pretty blessed to have learned this art. Very, very lucky.”

Wayne revels in walking along the pier extending above New Brighton Beach after he’s completed a mural. Anonymous, he sees people smiling and looking down in wonder at his work. Chatting in awe, “Woah, how did he do that.”

Wayne is still dreaming.

He’d like a crack at the sand art world record. 

“Sand art makes me want to stay above ground,” he said.

“I've learned there are two things in life that pull me out of a dark hole. One's beach art and one's feeling loved. And amongst that, it's loving myself in the process.”

He’s now teaching 10-year-old Lily how to create sand art.

Lily and her Dad approached Wayne one day, asking if he could teach her. Wayne told Lily to come back the next day and to bring a rake.

“It will help her in her future. When she feels sad she can come and create a big drawing and then walk off the beach feeling good about herself. And she can make other people smile too.”