Racing a Concrete Canoe

E&A Intern Leads UNO's Concrete Canoe Team

Riley Ruskamp, 2017 & 2018 Summer Intern

Without E&A’s sponsorship, our team might not have been able to make it to the national competition.

Riley Ruskamp
2018 Construction Administration Intern

I first heard about the American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) Concrete Canoe Competition in high school when one of my science teachers told about how the concepts we were learning in class could be applied in the real world. I thought it would be pretty interesting, so I looked into how I could join a team at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO). I planned to join a team once I was enrolled as a student.

The competition is a challenge for teams of civil engineering students to produce a concrete mixture that is light enough to float, but also strong enough (in both tension and compression) to survive the stresses placed on a beam under different loading scenarios, tested by racing. The “beam” is represented by a canoe, which has a unique cross-section shape and experiences both tension and compression when holding paddlers in the water during races.

During my first semester at UNO, I heard the ASCE Student Chapter leaders speak to one of my classes. I joined the organization and got as involved as I could with the concrete canoe team.

I really enjoy the small size of the concrete canoe team. We’ve had 12 members for the past two years. The small size helps us work together as a team, and also provides opportunities for younger members to take on leadership positions. I’m currently the Team Captain.

We started preparations for the regional competition in September of 2017. We spent months experimenting with different types and proportions of aggregates and admixtures, including some fiber reinforcement. After we found the concrete mixture we wanted to use, we got started on the mold for the canoe.

We were hoping to buy a re-usable mold and a trailer for our canoe this year, so we asked engineering firms around Omaha for sponsorships and donations. Since I had an Internship with E&A last year, they were one of the first firms we asked. E&A agreed to donate some funding for us, and with it, we were able to buy our re-usable mold.

Once we had our canoe molded and the final touches done, we set out for regionals in late April at Southern Illinois University – Carbondale. Each team set up a display that showed the features of their canoe and explained their budget and time spent. The last day of regionals was race day, which was the highlight of the competition. Races test the structural integrity of the canoes, as well as the paddlers’ talent.

Races consisted of:
2- person Endurance Race, Men’s and Women’s
2-person Sprint, Men’s and Women’s
4-person Co-Ed Race

This year, our UNO team was also able to compete at the National Concrete Canoe Competition at San Diego State University through a wild card drawing. Winning the drawing came as a surprise to us, and only five of our team members were available to attend. We were going to need some help moving around a 450-pound canoe, so we invited four members from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln’s team to come with us.

Since this was only UNO’s third year competing, much of our time at the national competition was spent walking around and learning as much as we could from other teams’ designs and concrete mixtures. We met people from around the United States, as well as a few teams from China and Canada, that qualified for the U.S. competition by competing in regional competitions in California and New York. Check out more photos from the competition here.

We placed 24th in the overall competition, and tied for 18th in total race points. Although we hoped to do better, we improved our times in each race significantly, which should give us a head start for next year’s competition.

The Concrete Canoe Competition is a great way to apply what I am learning in the classroom, and my involvement with ASCE has helped me in my internships with E&A. Since I have a general understanding of concrete testing, I am able to relate better to what I see in the field as a Construction Administration intern.


Below: Riley Ruskamp (middle) with his team and their concrete canoe, Dark Horse.

Riley (left) and his teammate racing their concrete canoe.

Riley (four from left) at the National Concrete Canoe Competition with team members from both the UNO and UNL groups.