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Berkeley students at the 2009 National Concrete Canoe Competition finals.Berkeley students at the 2009 National Concrete Canoe Competition finals.

Berkeley engineering students take title in concrete-canoe competition

| 19 June 2009

A team of Berkeley engineering students won the 22nd annual National Concrete Canoe Competition at the contest's national finals in Tuscaloosa, Ala. June 11-13. It was the campus's fifth title in the remarkable battle of the boats, sometimes called the America's Cup of civil engineering.

Culminating a year-long effort, the Berkeley team (which involved about 30 students in all) defeated competitors from 21 other engineering schools. Their entry: "Bear Area," a 230-pound, 20-foot-long white craft decorated with colorful murals on a San Francisco Bay Area theme.

Berkeley students paddle "Bear Area" to victoryBerkeley students paddle "Bear Area" to victory.

A battle of brains and brawn organized by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the competition requires entrants to design and construct a concrete canoe, present a technical design paper, and paddle their craft in sprint and endurance races.

"These outstanding civil engineering students have shown that technical skills combined with an innate sense of creativity can turn a seemingly impossible task into a reality," said ASCE president D. Wayne Klotz of the high-spirited Berkeley team.

"Hearing that we won was the best moment of my life," says Cal team member Danielle Des Champs. "We spent over 6,000 hours on this project," and "improved this year in every category but one, in which we did the same as last year.... We were definitely up against the most amazing canoes and teams I've ever seen."

On race day, contestants faced hot, muggy weather and thunderstorms. "We actually did the women's endurance race while it was pouring, says Des Champs. "When you see everyone racing, you sometimes forget that these are all about 200-pound canoes, which sometimes crack in half or sink."

Long one of the top contenders in the competition, Cal has had numerous second- and third-place finishes, and took the concrete-canoe championship in 1988, 1989, 1991, and 1992. This year École de Technologie Supérieure of Montréal, Canada won second prize, while California Polytechnic State University placed third.