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Illinois to host 2013 National Concrete Canoe Competition

5/6/2013 11:44:00 AM

This year, the 2013 National Concrete Canoe Competition (NCCC) will make its return to the place it first began: the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. More than 20 teams of college students who have designed and built concrete canoes will gather at Illinois from June 20-22 to showcase the finished results of their nine-month projects. The three-day event, most of which is open to the public, will culminate in concrete canoe races on Homer Lake in nearby Homer, Ill.

The Illinois team poses with its canoe at the regional competition at Trine University in Indiana. Photo: Roman Vovchak
The Illinois team poses with its canoe at the regional competition at Trine University in Indiana. Photo: Roman Vovchak
Back in 1971, civil engineering Professor Clyde E. Kesler started the phenomenon of concrete canoeing as a class project intended to teach students about using concrete as a building material. Before long, students at Purdue University heard about the project and joined in the fun. The first race took place at Kickapoo State Park in Oakwood, Ill., where the Illinois students competed against Purdue, winning two out of three races and declaring themselves 1971 world champs.

As years passed by, more universities became involved and concrete canoeing became an official event of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), which oversaw its first National Concrete Canoe Competition in 1988. The activity is even expanding internationally, reaching countries such as Canada, Germany, Japan, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates.

In the last month, more than 200 teams have competed across the nation in their respective regional competitions. Teams that either placed first in one of the 18 spring national conference competitions or, alternatively, placed second in their regional conference competition behind a university that finished in the top five at the previous year’s national completion qualified for the NCCC this year. Though the Illinois team — now known as the Boneyard Yacht Club after the creek running through the engineering campus — did not succeed in placing in their regional competition in April, they will be competing at nationals, since the university will be hosting the event. Armen Amirkhanian, a PhD student and Illinois canoe adviser, is looking forward to the team’s participation in the 2013 NCCC, based on their significant improvement.

“In the past four years, [the team] has gone from not even placing in the top three at the regional competition to making it to the national competition and almost placing top 10,” Amirkhanian said. “This competition’s really not about winning first. It’s about actually learning during the process. Even though the team historically hasn’t done that well, they’ve learned so much through the years that it’s really beneficial for them.” 

Members of the Illini concrete canoe team race at the 2012 regional competition.
Members of the Illini concrete canoe team race at the 2012 regional competition.
Amirkhanian said that the NCCC provides students with the challenge of using their knowledge and creativity to showcase the durability and resourcefulness of concrete as a building material. Students are able to apply practical engineering principles they have learned, as well as important project management and team skills needed in their future careers.

The competition consists of many events that showcase the skill of participating teams: canoe display setup, weigh in, swamp tests (to ensure the canoe floats when submerged in a water tank), oral presentations and canoe races. After careful observation and a seven-minute interview process, a panel of five judges — usually made up of CEOs, company presidents or principal engineers of design firms — will make the final review of each team’s project, naming one as the national champion.

Additionally, this event serves to raise awareness of concrete technology and application among civil engineering students, educators, practitioners, the concrete industry and the general public.

“Everyone is welcome to come. No admission,” Amirkhanian said. “Just walk to the quad and walk around the canoes. The participants from each team are always really excited to talk about what they did because some of them spend up to 4,000 man hours on this project.”

For a complete list of events, visit the official ASCE NCCC website, or Canoe Facebook page. Some highlights:

Thursday, June 20
Bardeen Quad
7 a.m.-11 a.m. 
Canoe Unload/Display Setup, Team Photos, Weigh In, Swamp Tests 

Team members load their canoe onto their trailer April 18 on the way to the regional competition at Trine University in Indiana.
Team members load their canoe onto their trailer April 18 on the way to the regional competition at Trine University in Indiana.
Thursday, June 20
Bardeen Quad
9-11 a.m.
Hands-on activities for children

Thursday, June 20
Bardeen Quad
1:30 p.m.-4 p.m.
Final Product Judging 

Friday, June 21
Siebel Center, room 1404
8 a.m.-12 p.m., 1:30 p.m.-5 p.m.
Presentations 

Saturday, June 22
Homer Lake
8 a.m.-12 p.m., 1 p.m.-3:30 p.m.
Canoe Races 

For further information on the history of NCCC, refer to a story written by Armen Amirkhanian, PhD student and Illinois canoe adviser.
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Contact: Celeste Arbogast Bragorgos, director of communications, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, 217/333-6955.

Writer: Stephanie H. Kim, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

If you have any questions about the College of Engineering, or other story ideas, contact Rick Kubetz, editor, Engineering Communications Office, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 217/244-7716.