Concrete Canoes Make A Splash

Staff | September 28, 2010

In the 1960s, a group of civil engineering students had what everyone else thought was a crazy idea. They would take a building material nearly everyone was familiar with — concrete — and utilize it in an extraordinary way: They would design, build and race a canoe made of concrete.

Despite their success, those students never would have guessed that a nationally recognized competition would evolve from their experiment — and they certainly never thought that in 2007 the national competition would be celebrating its 20th annual event. While the shape, size and speed of the canoes have changed throughout the years, the innovative spirit and creativity of the competitors remains the same.

Teams from 22 North American engineering schools gathered in Seattle June 14–16 for the American Society of Civil Engineers' 20th Annual National Concrete Canoe Competition. This year's event, hosted by the University of Washington, took place on the UW campus and at Sunset Beach on nearby Lake Sammamish, where the canoe races took place.

The races, both endurance and sprint combined, counted for only 25 percent of the teams' overall score. The remaining 75 percent was based equally on: a technical design paper that highlighted the planning, development, testing, and construction of the team's canoe; a formal oral presentation, in which the team had to detail their canoe's design, construction, racing ability, and other innovative features, as well as defend their choices to the judges during a question and answer session; and the end product — the final racing canoe and project display, which were scored on aesthetics and visual presentation.

For the fifth year in a row, the University of Wisconsin-Madison captured the "America's Cup of Civil Engineering" concrete canoe competition. From the Pacific Northwest, the University of Washington finished 11th and Washington State University finished 15th.

"Over the past two decades the students that have participated in the National Concrete Canoe Competition have represented the best and the brightest of the engineering profession, and this year's class is a continuation of that tradition," said ASCE President Bill Marcuson, Ph.D., P.E., Hon. M.ASCE. "The creativity, innovation and teamwork these students have displayed over past three days assure me that no matter what challenges come their way — energy, transportation, global water supply — they will be prepared for success."

The three-day event was made possible by the support of founding sponsor BASF Construction Chemicals, as well as the American Concrete Institute, Baker Construction Inc., Bentley Systems Inc., Holcim Inc., Norchem, ICS Penetron, Pennoni Associates Inc., Propex Concrete Systems, and U.S. Silica Company.