HarborFrost is the event that Sag Harborites eagerly anticipate all winter. Between live music, a plunge into the frosty bay, a culinary stroll, a hot chocolate station, face painting, fire juggling and fireworks, it’s easy to see the appeal. However, the crème de la crème of the annual festivities is the live ice carving demo performed by the fastest ice carver in the world, Rich Daly.
A Guinness World Records adjudicator bestowed this distinction on Daly in 2013, after he successfully carved 60 sculptures out of 18,000 pounds of ice in two hours and 52 minutes. This feat obliterated the previous record of four hours and 23 minutes set by Rich Bubin in 2002. At that time, Daly was first learning how to ice carve as a culinary arts major at Johnson & Wales University. “You never think, ‘One day I’m going to break that record,’” he says. Rather, he thought, “Nobody’s ever going to be able to do that.”
After years of winning speed carving competitions across the country, he changed his tune. In 2012, he called Guinness to announce his intent to beat the current record. He spent a year brainstorming and submitting 150 sculpture designs for approval, modifying chainsaws and tools for maximum speed and running drills to shave off as much time as possible until the day came that he successfully beat the previous record by an hour and a half. Now, with one spot in the Guinness book, he has his sights set on a second—fastest single-block carving—which he hopes to achieve next year.
With that goal still a ways away, Daly’s current focus is helping to create the best HarborFrost yet. Daly has been working closely with the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce to brainstorm designs for a live demo on the Long Wharf to best fit this year’s theme of fireworks and shooting stars and really nail the wow factor. They’ve decided on a massive shooting star made of eight blocks of ice totaling 2,400 pounds. “It’s going to be larger than life, as usual, but it’s from a more artistic standpoint this year,” Daly says. “It’s going to be a great photo opportunity, and that’s really what it’s all about.”
Providing quality photo ops are incredibly important to Daly, in fact, they’re a part of what he finds most rewarding about ice carving. “I like that it’s temporary. It’s ever changing; the environment that surrounds it changes it. If it’s super cold, if it’s windy, if it’s sunny, if it’s hot, it constantly changes. As it changes, it takes on a different glare—a different glow. As it melts away, it’s a temporary art form,” he explains. “It’s temporary, so you take a picture of it, and that’s what you have for a lifetime.”
In addition to the large Long Wharf display, HarborFrost will feature over a dozen of Daly’s smaller sculptures representing various village businesses. He expects there will be “close to 10,000 pounds of ice scattered throughout town.”
His all-time favorite sculpture ever created is called “Smooth Criminal,” which earned him his first U.S. national championship in 2015. The imaginative design was of a six-foot-six-inch praying mantis holding bags of money while posing like Michael Jackson. “It came to life one detail at a time—practice an arm, practice a leg, practice the antenna, make the face: Is he smiling at you? Is he mean? Angry? Whatever it may be,” he explained. “Every detail was thought out, like his eyebrow: Is it up? Is it down? And it all just brought the sculpture to life.”
When it came time for the competition, he felt a blood-rushing feeling of relief, because he knew he “just knew that it was perfection.” He adds, “I knew I left it all out there when I did it, and it turned out to be one of my highest-scoring sculptures ever.”
Daly’s chilling art displays are not limited to competitions and HarborFrost. He runs an award-winning ice carving company, Ice Memories Inc., from his home in Mastic Beach. In addition to creating custom ice luges, mugs and more, his commissioned sculptures include carvings of the entire Golden State Warriors starting lineup for the NBA and a life-size sculpture of the infamous butt fumble for ESPN, which marked the anniversary of the ill-fated play involving Mark Sanchez of the New York Jets running headfirst into teammate Brandon Moore’s behind.
By May, Ice Memories Inc. is expected to have a brand-new Computer Numeric Control (CNC) machine that will allow Daly to offer businesses from New York City to Montauk carvings of their company logo etched into even the smallest ice cube. “Instead of doing it by hand, a computer will be able to do it in a third of the time, and it’ll be crystal perfect,” he says. “You can’t out-carve a computer.” The CNC machine isn’t replacing Daly though. On the contrary, by taking over much of the large corporate orders, it allows him to focus on designing bigger and better ice sculptures for live demonstrations and competitions.
Outside of the ice carving business, Daly also teaches culinary arts at William Floyd High School. He’s discovered the two jobs are surprisingly easy to balance, because most clients request his services for parties and events on weekends, holidays and during the summer when the school is closed. “They’re a match made in heaven,” he says.