UF concrete canoe team wins nationals 

In Engineering Education, Featured, NewsBy Dave Schlenker

The 2024 University of Florida Concrete Canoe team.

UF concrete canoe team members pose with Springseeker, their championship 2024 canoe in Utah. The team won its fourth title on Saturday. (Photo by Joey Garrison/ASCE )

Just call The Pit in Weil Hall “Title Town.”   

On Saturday in Provo, Utah, the University of Florida’s concrete canoe team claimed its fourth national title at the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Student Engineering Championships. 

The win comes several weeks after UF’s Eckhoff Steel Bridge team made history by claiming its fourth consecutive title at Louisiana Tech University – a record, according to the American Institute of Steel Construction. The civil engineering teams (concrete canoe and steel bridge) share workspace in The Pit, a large industrial space in Weil Hall where much of the magic happens for both teams. 

The 12-member concrete canoe team and its Springseeker canoe led the top five in Utah, followed by Universite Laval (Quebec), California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo, Virginia Tech and Western Kentucky University. Twenty-five teams consisting of 250 students competed in the competition, according to ASCE. 

Florida’s ASCE win this year comes after back-to-back canoe titles by California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo in 2022 and 2023. The two universities have gone back and forth for nearly a decade, each winning four championships in the last 10 years. 

UF’s concrete canoe team also won ASCE’s virtual competition nationals in 2021 with Polligator. UF’s canoe Foreverglades took top honors in 2015, while the Tom Petty-themed Free Floatin’ won the title in 2019; those two champs hang from the ceiling of The Pit. 

“We are the only school in the U.S. to win both steel bridge and concrete canoe in the same year, and we’ve done it three times (2015, 2021, 2024) which speaks volumes about the quality of our students and the program,” said Taylor Rawlinson, Ph.D., the team’s laboratory manager with faculty advisor Robert Thieke, Ph.D. “Since 2019, there have been 10 bridge and canoe national competitions. UF has seven national championships, one second place, and one third place in that timeframe. 

In addition to best overall at the Utah competition, the UF team won second place in the Women’s Slalom, second in the Men’s Slalom, fifth in the Women’s Sprint, second in the Men’s Sprint, third in the Co-Ed Sprint, third in Best Technical Proposal, third in Best Technical Presentation and third in Best Final Product.  

“We knew that we put our all into Springseeker,” said Sydney Sutherland, a co-project manager for UF’s team, in an article posted on ASCE’s website. “The Fountain of Youth is a folk tale that is prominent in Florida history and culture. So the design of our canoe is a physical manifestation of what we believe the Fountain of Youth is. It represents discovery and exploration, specifically in the field of engineering – how we strive to go forward as engineers.” 

“I am so proud of our team,” fellow co-project manager Abigail Fronk told ASCE. “It’s so fulfilling. But it’s also such an honor to be first place. It’s just an incredible feeling.” 

The canoes are made from thin layers of concrete and carbon fiber. The team must balance the weight of construction materials with performance in the water and turning agility. “We test the limits of the materials,” Rawlinson said.     

Known as America’s Cup of Civil Engineering, the ASCE competition combines precise engineering, hydrodynamic design and racing technique. America’s Cup also hosts several other engineering events, but the concrete canoes are the flagship competitions.  

The UF concrete canoe team members who competed in Utah are Sutherland, Fronk, Payton Carter, Margaret Deaderick, Luke Gutierrez, Brennan Kade, Aiden Kittelson, Taylor Nestel, Thomas Raffenberg, Keegan Wittke, Alicia Demicco and Maya Patel. 

“One thing to note,” Rawlinson added, “is how meaningful this win is for the concrete canoe program and ESSIE (Engineering School of Sustainable Infrastructure and Environment). Dr. (Robert) Thieke is retiring in the fall, and this is his last year as the faculty advisor. His mentorship, devotion, and the kindness he has shown the student design teams and all students that have come through our program in the last 30 years are immeasurable. He will truly be missed.”