Burnaby grads going for gold with UBC's concrete canoe team

Two former Burnaby students are gunning for gold next month in a contest of engineering prowess that sounds more like a joke – concrete canoe.

Burnaby North 2013 grad Ellen Chen and Moscrop 2015 grad Tim Tuo head south to Moscow, Idaho April 7 to 9 with UBC’s concrete canoe team for the Pacific Northwest division of the American Society of Civil Engineers' annual concrete canoe competition.

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The 45-person UBC team, which has spent more than five months designing and building a canoe out of – you guessed it – concrete, will pit its finished product and its paddling ability against American rivals.

Last year, in only its second year of competition, the team finished third out of 13 teams; this year they want to win.

“The big challenge with this is to lower the density of the concrete so that it’s below the density of water,” said Chen, a third-year civil engineering student who joined the team to get more involved in the UBC civil engineering community.   “Normal concrete is about 2,400 kilograms per metre cubed. We’re trying to lower it so that it’s around 700 to 800 kilograms per metre cubed, and that involves a lot of mix-design considerations.”

But Chen’s job, as hull design team lead, was actually to design the shape of the boat.

This year’s canoe features an arrow shape, she said, with a wider bow and narrower stern than last year’s, as well as walls that are half an inch thinner.

In Idaho, teams will earn points for their design and finished product as well as for their vessels’ performance in a series of races.

UBC has been holding paddling practices since January, according to Chen.

“I’ll definitely be racing in the canoe,” she said.

In May, Chen and Tuo (a first-year applied science major and the team’s sponsorship team lead) head to Montreal with the UBC team for the Canadian National Concrete Canoe Competition, where the goal will be a top-five finish.

For more information or to sponsor the team, visit yesitfloats.com.

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