Anatomy Of A Championship Canoe

Teams start work on their canoes in September, when rules and regulations surrounding canoe design are released by the American Society of Civil Engineers. They work throughout the fall on design and analysis, culminating in casting the canoe -- hopefully in early December. 

After letting the concrete cure for about a month, it is released from its form and the team spends the next three months sanding, staining and sealing the exterior until they have a sleek craft ready to race at the Mid Pacific Conference (Mid-Pac for short) in April. 

Overall, the process takes the team of about 20 students about 4,000 hours to complete. 

A winning concrete canoe needs to be both fast and agile. The competition's race events require high speeds and sharp turns. While long canoes generally can move faster through the water, the additional length can make turning more difficult. The University's team favors canoes that are close to 22' long, which is the maximum length allowed by the competition in 2015. To further reduce drag, the teams have reduced the width of the boat, resulting in lower wetted surface area and a a greater length to beam ratio. 

To improve the maneuverability of a longer boat, the team designed a rounded rocker in the bow of the boat, which allows it to glide more easily through turns. A flat bottom in the middle section of the canoe creates stability and allow the canoe to ride higher in the water, creating less resistance for turns. Finally, a sharp keel at the stern of the boat improves tracking in straightaways. 

Clyde Kesler.jpg

How It All Began

A professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign named Clyde E. Kesler (pictured above) had an inspiration. Instead of giving his students in the concrete design class the usual term project of designing high-strength cylinders or reinforced beams, he challenged them to build a canoe out of concrete. 

By the end of 1970, the first modern concrete canoe had been constructed. It vaguely resembled a canoe, weighed 370 pounds, and was appropriately named Mis-Led. Purdue heard about the project and, naturally, challenged Illinois to a race. On May 16, 1971, the first inter-collegiate concrete canoe race in the world took place. 

This would be only the start of what would grow into a worldwide competition. The idea caught on, and year after year, more and more teams competed in various races throughout the country. However, all of these competitions were organized independently of one another. The American Concrete Institute, with input from another University of Illinois professor, Francis J. Young, attempted to draw up a set of rules to organize the competitions. Nevertheless, it was not until 1987 that the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) formed a committee to organize the competition nationally, under the direction of Professor R. John Craig from the New Jersey Institute of Technology. In 1988, the first National Concrete Canoe Competition was held in East Lansing, Mich. In 1989, ASCE established a permanent subcommittee to ensure the execution of the annual concrete canoe competition. 

Every year since then, thousands of students at hundreds of universities across the nation have challenged themselves to build and race concrete canoes. The nine-month project takes extraordinary engineering ability and dedication to complete.


In 1981 as part of the FIP congres in Stockholm, Sweden there was the 1st FIP international concrete canoe race. Won by the Danish team from Technical University of Denmark, Inspired by Herbert Krenchel

In 1988, ASCE expanded the competition to the national level, when Master Builders, Inc. (now known as BASF) signed-on to become the sole corporate sponsor for the event. In its first year, 18 teams of enthusiastic civil engineering students from the nation's premier academic programs gathered in East Lansing, Mich., to test the waters of this innovative and educational event. Over the next two decades, the competition became a great success, with regional winners traveling across the country by plane, train and Ryder truck, canoes in tow, in their quest to become National Concrete Canoe Competition champions. 

As competition was developing in the United States, the idea had also taken hold in other countries. Today, concrete canoe racing happens around the world in places like Germany, South Africa, Canada, Japan and the United Arab Emirates; and with sponsorship from ASCE and the American Concrete Institute (ACI), the 2007 National Concrete Canoe Competition winning team, University of Wisconsin - Madison, travelled to the Netherlands to represent the United States in the 30th Annual Dutch Concrete Canoe Challenge. 

The Concrete Canoe Competition is designed to provide civil engineering students with an opportunity to gain hands-on, practical experience and leadership skills by working with concrete mix designs and project management. Organizers, sponsors and participants are dedicated to building awareness of concrete technology and application, as well as the versatility and durability of concrete as a construction material, among civil engineering students, educators, practitioners, the concrete industry and the general public. They also strive to increase awareness among industry leaders, opinion makers and the general public of civil engineering as a dynamic and innovative profession essential to society. In its 21-year history, the National Concrete Canoe Competition has challenged the knowledge, creativity and stamina of more than 400 teams and 5000 students. In 2008, more than 200 teams competed in 18 conference competitions to qualify for participation at the national level.

Today: ASCE National Competition

The ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers) National Concrete Canoe Competition (NCCC) provides students with a practical application of the engineering principles they learn in the classroom, along with important team and project management skills they will need in their careers. The event challenges the students' knowledge, creativity and stamina, while showcasing the versatility and durability of concrete as a building material. 

Each year, the NCCC, which is held in mid-June, is hosted by an ASCE Student Organization. Some 200 university teams attempt to qualify for the NCCC by placing first in one of the 18 conference competitions held throughout the United States during the spring. Teams placing second in a conference competition behind a university that finished in the top five at the previous year's national competition are also invited. To be eligible to compete the entrant school must be a recognized ASCE Student Chapter or ASCE International Student Group. Typically, frontrunners include University of Alabama, Huntsville, University of Nevada, Reno, University of Florida, California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo, the University of California at Berkeley, Clemson University, Ecole de technologie superieure, Universite Laval, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. 

The winners of the ASCE National Concrete Canoe Competition are determined by compiling the team's total number of points from the academic and race portions of the competition. Academic scholarships totaling $9,000 are awarded to the winning teams' undergraduate civil engineering program.