When Jackson Carcaba, a third-year civil engineering major at the University of Florida, enrolled at the university in 2020, he had to find a way to get involved in his field in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The university assigned him a mentor who he said was a member of the university’s UF Concrete Canoe team, a largely student-run team of engineering majors that compete in the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Concrete Canoe Competition (CCC). Here, schools design, build and race student-built canoes and are judged on technical aspects.
Carcaba joined as a technician during his first year on campus. However, the pandemic limited participation, and although the team could meet in person, they weren’t able to build a canoe and competitions were held virtually.
“It was tough,” said Carcaba, who now serves as one of the two project managers. “I was very fortunate to be one of the few people on the team that year that got to come down here and experience the labs. Even though we didn’t build a canoe, we did all the design work for it.”
However, the virtual experience paid off as the team won their third overall national championship with the canoe “Polligator.” UFCC previously won national championships in 2015 with “ForeverGlades” and in 2019 with “Free Floatin’.”
Fast-forward to the present with their canoe “Incinegator,” UFCC placed first overall at the Southeast Conference ASCE Student Symposium at the University of North Florida this past March. The team simply dominated the other schools in the region, which is made up of Florida schools, Georgia schools and Puerto Rico schools.
Now, the team aims to win its fourth national title at the 2023 ASCE Championships, which will be held June 10 to 12 at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville.
“It was thrilling,” said Sydney Sutherland, one of the team’s two visual design captains in charge of choosing the theme and name of the canoe. “We’re kind of a family. It makes me happy to see us succeed and see everyone around me get so excited about a concrete canoe. It brings us all together.”
Specifically, they placed either first or second in all categories at the event. UFCC placed first in Final Product, Technical Proposal, Technical Presentation, Women’s Slalom and Women’s Sprint. The team finished second in Men’s Slalom, Men’s Sprint and Co-Ed Sprint.
A hypothetical sweep of every competition would earn a team 100 points, according to Carcaba. UFCC scored a 98.7, nearly 40 points more than the second place team from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez.
“We’re very proud of the work we were able to do this year, and everyone that competed did a great job,” Carcaba said, “but I think our hard work that we put in this year was really able to be shown there.
The recent success was nearly a year in the making. Sutherland said the design process began last summer of coming up and narrowing down designs. “Incinegator” was the result of a “lightbulb moment” between Sutherland and fellow visual design captain Maya Patel when Patel said, “Incinerator.”
The fall consisted of building the canoe and the spring consisted of building the stands. The team met for “Pour Day,” at 5:30 a.m. and finished at 8 p.m. After letting the canoe cure for 21 days, the team sanded it down and the visual design team took over to stain and paint the canoe. Overall, Carcaba said the process took about a month-and-a-half to two months.
“It seems like quite a big project when you’re in the summer and you haven’t really put any ground work in yet,” said Lance Fischer, the second project manager on the team, “but we take every design decision one step at a time. Slowly but surely, the project comes together. It was great seeing everything we dreamed of having on a canoe come to life.”
“Incinegator” is roughly 20 feet long and weighs 210 pounds, which is slightly longer but significantly lighter than average concrete canoes, which can sometimes weigh between 300 and 400 pounds, according to Carcaba. Rather than use sand, Carcaba said the team uses a man-made lightweight aggregate made up of glass cenospheres.
“They’re largely-hollow glass bubbles. The concrete on its own is about neutrally buoyant, and then we put it through a drying process which makes it self-buoyant” Carcaba explained. “Whenever you’re using these materials, there’s an obvious sacrifice for strength, but we’re able to balance that with the structural design.”
Outside of the classroom and beyond the races and competitions, UFCC has opened up career opportunities for its team members. Carcaba and Sutherland secured internships through connections and conversations about concrete canoes, and Fischer found a job through a UFCC alum who was also a project manager.
“I don’t mean to get sentimental, but it really means a lot to me,” Sutherland said. “It’s really awesome to talk about with people in industry. They really seem to enjoy talking about design teams. We have an extensive alumni network.”
Now as the team prepares for the society-wide competition this summer, Sutherland noted that they cannot make physical alterations to “Incinegator.” However, they can update the design on the stands, sign and graphics on the presentation.
Additionally, Carcaba explained that they can revise the proposal and presentation based on feedback from the regional judges and the network of alumni.
“The project doesn’t stop. Our captains will keep working on fine-tuning all the details of the graded competition,” Fischer said. “Our paddling team is going to be out at Lake Wauberg definitely these next two weekends and pretty much as much as we can until we compete.”
The ASCE held its first National Concrete Canoe Championship in 1988 and has had a competition every year except for 2020, which was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
UFCC has competed at the national level 16 times with three championships and two runner-up finishes, according to its website. A championship for UFCC would break a tie with Clemson University for third-most in competition history.
“UFCC has a big history competing at nationals,” Fischer said, “and we want to continue that legacy.”