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Monday, September 27, 2021

Students compete in annual concrete canoe competition

Down the south end of Bainer Hall is a room where the science of engineering and bags of concrete combine with an overarching drive of determination.

“I am a die-hard concrete canoe fan,” said junior Aimee Kindell, a civil engineering major.

Every year UC Davis civil engineering majors have the opportunity to take a step away from their textbooks to undertake a demanding project consisting of constructing a canoe out of concrete.

Making their first appearance around the 1840s in France, concrete canoes have since evolved from an intramural sport in the 1960s to full-fledged national competitions today, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers website.

Beginning in the 1970s, UC Davis civil engineering majors have competed in concrete canoe competitions. Scores are determined by incorporating racing the canoe with presentations on their construction.

“It challenges you to be physical, academic and practical … and teaches you how to be balanced,” said Kindell, who will be a presenter along with co-captain Rodger Feng at the Mid Pacific regional this April.

A typical concrete canoe is 20 feet long and can weigh anywhere from 150 to 400 pounds.

To fund a project like the concrete canoe, members garner upwards of 15 percent of their budget from sponsors, turning the competition into a truly multi-dimensional project.

Jason Coleman, a 2008 civil engineering alumnus who now works for the Luhdorff ground water firm in Woodland, said that participating in “concrete canoe” prepared him with leadership, budgeting, construction management, and communication skills.

Coleman has come back to help with this year’s competition, like many other UC Davis civil engineering alumni.

“It was an easier transition to come from academia to a real world work place,” Coleman said.

The whole process of constructing a concrete canoe takes months of planning and constructing. Michelle Fong, a junior civil engineering major, said designing the mix was the most important element.

Every team comes up with their own mixture in the competition, which this year added stricter rules on adding sustainability as another aspect to the construction process.

The process of creating the concrete canoe began this summer, with team members meeting every Saturday for plans and construction. Several said they bond over sleep deprivation with the long hours.

While the construction of a concrete canoe gets team members to flex their mental muscles, the physical side gets members to flex a whole other type of muscle.

Twice a week the team members meet at the lake in Stone Gate Country Club in West Davis to practice paddling for five racing events that test the strength of the team as well as the canoe.

“We wake up and it’s windy as hell and we still go out,” said senior Nadia Sanchez, who is paddling this year in the female and co-ed events.

The team holds tryouts for prospective paddlers in a timed 200-meter event looking for dedication and how well skills are picked up.

“No experience is necessary,” Kindell said.

Kindell said that though they welcome any major to help with Concrete Canoe, paddling is reserved for engineering majors only.

While many steps and elements of Concrete Canoe demand a lot of time and commitment from the team, many feel a sense of unity through building the canoe together.

The general agreement among members is the canoe is like their baby. While the canoe itself builds group unity, the common goal of winning at the Mid Pacific regional competition this year is really what cements the team together.

“We want it bad,” Kindell said.

She hopes that this year’s theme, “Dark Horse,” will encourage the team to rise from the middle of the pack. “Dark horse” is a typical term used in horse racing when the underdog comes from behind and wins the whole race.

For information about the Concrete Canoe competition, contact ucdconcretecanoe@g-mail.com.

JESSY WEI can be reached at features@theaggie.org. 

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