Concrete Canoe Competition Shapes Leaders, Builds Teamwork

24 members of Michigan Tech Concrete Canoe Team stand behind their canoe Card Shark in a competition at a pond near Wayne State University.
24 members of Michigan Tech Concrete Canoe Team stand behind their canoe Card Shark in a competition at a pond near Wayne State University.
Michigan Tech's Concrete Canoe Team displays their vessel, Card Shark, at Lake St. Clair Metropark, where they placed second in the race category.

After finishing second in the 2023 American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Concrete Canoe regional competition, Michigan Tech’s co-captain reflects on why being part of the team is the real win.

Michigan Technological University’s Concrete Canoe team poured, paddled and presented their way to just one point shy of first place among the 13 teams competing in the Eastern Great Lakes Division on March 31. The team placed first in the technical paper category, finished a close second in races and took third in both prototype and presentation. “It all came down to the presentation category,” said co-captain Lydia Lamey. “Our presenters scored perfectly in the category, which is very rare. In the questioning period, we were one point below Youngstown State and Cincinnati (universities).”

Earning first place overall would have cemented a berth at nationals, which take place June 10-12 at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. Instead of dwelling on the what-ifs, Lamey is looking at the takeaways that she and fellow Huskies can apply to future competitions — and careers.

A team captain with braids in waterproof bibs, boots, and hats stands in front of Michigan Tech's concrete canoe entry. She's team co-captain.
Co-captain Lydia Lamey says this year's experience offered multiple insights to help the team improve next year. (All images courtesy Lydia Lamey/Michigan Tech Concrete Canoe Team)

“The team did extremely well. If anything, we’ve learned that not everything can be controlled and that trying our best is what matters most,” said Lamey.

"I think students join Concrete Canoe because they want to have fun applying their engineering knowledge, but also because they want to be a part of a greater team. Leadership skills really grow on the team. There are so many opportunities for members to step up."Lydia Lamey ’25, co-captain, Michigan Tech Concrete Canoe

How Do You Float a Concrete Canoe?

The Concrete Canoe competition includes a five-minute technical presentation that covers project management, hull design, structural analysis, research and design for mix and reinforcement, construction and finishing/aesthetics.

What makes a concrete canoe float? Unlike traditional cement, water, sand and gravel mixes, student innovators substitute lighter, smaller spheres — like recycled hollowed glass or ceramic — for the gravel. 


A Husky Tradition Set in Concrete

Huskies on Michigan Tech’s Concrete Canoe team have been taking part in “America’s Cup of Civil Engineering” since 1991. From Kraken to Cast Away, view the list of canoe names, find out more about Tech’s track record in the competition and see photos of past teams and their vessels.

This year, the team chose a casino night theme for their presentation, a nod to the bonds made playing cards and having fun nights out with friends. Meshing the theme with the canoe’s aquatic environment, they named their canoe Card Shark. “The name also reflects the sort of competitive spirit we have,” Lamey said. 

Students kneel in front of their poster presentation for Card Shark at the Concrete Canoe Regionals, while other members of the Michigan Tech team stand on each side of the presentation which includes playing cards and a sheet showing the construction materials used in the canoe.
Concrete Canoe Team members share their presentation at Wayne State University, where they competed with 12 other universities in the Eastern Great Lakes Division.

Lamey said one of her favorite parts of the competition was watching each school present. “I love learning about how each team spent their year, and a lot can be gained from understanding how each team works,” she said. Another favorite: paddling for the Tech team, even though weather conditions were difficult.

Per ASCE regulations, if the combined air and water temperature is below 85 degrees on competition day, races don’t take place. There are typically five races, including endurance runs and sprints. Canoes are submerged in tanks prior to the competition to ensure they'll rise back to the surface if swamped. 

Two college students from Michigan Tech paddle on a lake in their concrete canoe headed for a yellow course marker.
Tech's team placed second in the women's slalom competition.

“We were within a couple of degrees of the required temperature, so only two races happened,” said Lamey. “Many years teams aren’t able to race at all. We took second in both the men’s and women’s slalom. They were both incredibly close races. From my perspective, our paddling skills were on full display and I believe we would have won the races if it weren’t for the weight of our boat. My top tip: You must stay calm and focused in order to have a successful race.” 

A second-year geology and applied geophysics major, Lamey plans to continue serving as team project manager next year. Like the majority of Michigan Tech experiences that offer hands-on opportunities, all majors are welcome to join the team. “Although my major isn’t related to civil engineering, I feel I’m still able to contribute to the team in a big way,” Lamey said.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, Michigan’s flagship technological university offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.