Concrete canoe club kicks off new year

The concrete canoe competition has gone on yearly since 1988.

Amber Kispert

For one group of students at the University’s civil engineering department, it’s time to put their knowledge of their craft to the test – whether they sink or swim.

That’s because the group is attempting to build and race a vessel of their own design, made almost entirely out of concrete.

“It is a concrete canoe, not wooden, not plastic, not anything else,” said Lev Khazanovich, the faculty adviser for the concrete canoe team.

Since 1988, the American Society of Civil Engineers and BASF Construction Chemicals, LLC have sponsored a yearly concrete canoe competition.

The National Concrete Canoe Competition consists of colleges throughout the country building a concrete canoe and competing in a race for scholarship money.

The competition is divided into four different areas; a formal presentation, a written report, the actual canoe and the canoe’s performance in the race.

The only exception is that a small amount of foam is allowed to be used.

“The foam can’t be used for structural reasons, but for floatation or buoyancy,” said Ken Hansen, co-captain of the concrete canoe team.

There is a common misconception that the canoes are made out of the same concrete as sidewalks or buildings, Rita Lederle, co-captain of the concrete canoe team, said.

“There are different kinds of concrete based on the ingredients and the proportions they’re in,” Lederle said.

Testing the mixtures is when the concrete canoe team learns the most and has the most fun, she said.

“The highly diverse nature of concrete and its proportions makes creating innovative concrete as much an art as a science,” Joe Reiter, co-captain of last year’s team, said in an e-mail.

Anyone is allowed to participate on the concrete canoe team, no matter their area of study.

“Anyone who wants to play with some concrete can join” Lederle said.

The paddlers for the race, however, are required to be civil engineering students and members of ASCE. But Lederle said this shouldn’t discourage other students from joining the team.

“It’s been helpful in the past to recruit mechanical engineers and aerospace engineers,” she said.

The group has just entered into the planning stages of how they want to approach their canoe this year and has begun doing preliminary sketches of some design ideas.

“I can’t draw, so I did some stuff in Play-Doh,” Lederle said.

The concrete canoe team is looking at their design from last year for ideas of what to do this year.

Khazonovich said the team is trying to “make last year’s design more perfect.”

Last year’s canoe used precast panels that were assembled like a puzzle, Lederle said.

“The canoe was the talk of the competition with the innovative design, construction process and final product,” Reiter said.

The precast panels made the canoe look angular and more like a barge than a canoe, said Lederle.

Lederle described it as “what would happen if a canoe mated with a stealth plane.”

Surprisingly, Lederle and Hansen said they were more concerned with keeping water out of the canoe rather than keeping it afloat.

This past Monday the concrete canoe team held their first meeting. Thirty-one students expressed interest in joining the team this year, Lederle said.

“Based on interest people expressed, we’re thinking we’ll end up with a core team of about 15,” she said.

The next meeting of the team is 3:30 p.m. Monday in the undergraduate lounge of the Civil Engineering Building. At the meeting they will start brainstorming the hull design for the canoe.

Within the next two weeks the team hopes to acquire some materials so they can start testing mixtures.

Weekly meetings will be held to plan the concrete mixtures. Once the actual canoe construction begins, Saturday meetings will be held.