Teams of rowers from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette will hit the water in Mississippi on Friday in a canoe made up almost entirely of concrete.
They’ll climb aboard the canoe they’ve christened the SS Wayne Toups to compete against other schools on Sardis Lake at the University of Mississippi during the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Deep South Conference.
Engineering clubs and student chapters of the ASCE from Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee, all in concrete canoes, are converging on Oxford, Mississippi, to compete in a series of three 100-meter races, including men’s, women’s and co-ed heats.
“I’m very confident,” said UL-Lafayette engineering student Ryan Fasone, the team’s co-captain. “I don’t do anything just to do it.”
Along with the race competition, the boats will be judged on appearance and durability. Students also have prepared papers detailing the structure of the boats.
“That’s the beauty of the whole thing,” UL-Lafayette ASCE faculty adviser Matthew Fadden said. “The competitions let them use what they’re learning in the classroom and really apply it.”
UL-Lafayette Dean of Engineering Mark Zappi assisted the canoe team in securing a sponsor, ocean survey firm Fugro Chance, as well as paddles and team jerseys.
“It was a no-brainer,” he said. “UL-Lafayette’s engineering program is one of the best programs in the nation. I told them, ‘Let’s not lose because we’re under-resourced.’ ”
Zappi competed in concrete canoe races when he was a student at UL-Lafayette.
“This is the best canoe we’ve seen in years,” he said.
In between two casts of concrete that make the boat is a layer of carbon fiber. The concrete is mixed with polymers that keep the canoe light yet durable.
“All the top teams use this method,” Fadden said. “It’s really one of those things where you learn your way through it and get better each year.”
And they did get better — significantly so. This year’s canoe is 50 percent lighter and thinner than last year’s canoe.
UL-Lafayette’s ASCE returned to the concrete canoe scene about five years ago, following a lengthy hiatus.
Medus said when he came into the society, they scrapped the old design, going so far as to even build new tables to prop their boat up.
“We were literally starting from scratch,” he said.
The UL-Lafayette team’s boat is named after Grammy-winning Cajun musician Wayne Toups, an idea of Fadden’s.
“I’m from Chicago, so it’s been a blast learning about Cajun culture,” Fadden said. “I really pushed them to use that name.”
One of ASCE’s member, Patricia Cox, is a cousin of Toups’, and convinced him to sign the canoe.
Although the thought of a boat made of concrete sounds impractical, using concrete to build watercraft has been around since World War II, when steel was in short supply.
The top school this weekend will go on to the ASCE National Concrete Canoe Competition, facing off against the best schools from across the country.