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Cardboard Flotilla Ready to Roll
September 21, 2006

A flotilla of cardboard canoes will attempt to traverse a pond on the Calvin College campus at 4 p.m. on Friday, September 29.

Calvin students interested in joining the 2006 cardboard canoe contest should contact Jeannine Keller for further details.

The event is the (approximately) 10th annual Cardboard Canoe Contest and student organizers say it's a fun way to expand their budding engineering skills.

“You don’t know who’s going to float, who’s going to sink and who’s going to make it around, and that’s part of the fun too,” says Calvin senior Eric Wildschut, president of the college's chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

The contest at Calvin originally was inspired by the ASCE’s National Concrete Canoe Competition.

“We have quite a small ASCE chapter here,” Wildschut says. “So we thought if we made the canoes out of cardboard, it would be accessible to anyone from the student body who wanted to participate.”

Typically, he says, a half-dozen student teams take part, observing some key parameters: The canoes must be constructed out of cardboard, plastic sheeting, garbage bags, duct tape and paint (optional and for decoration), and they can be any shape or size, but must be large enough to hold at least two members of the construction team.

The teams race the canoes between two bridges on an on-campus pond located behind the home of college president Gaylen Byker.

“The boats don’t last beyond one spin around the pond,” Wildschut says. “Some of them don’t make it away from the starting block. Some of them, when their creators hop into them, they sink to the bottom. It’s most memorable when they don’t work. It’s funny for those watching, but it’s sad for the people who make the canoes.”

Calvin engineering professors serve as judges for cardboard canoe contest, and they award two $40 Meijer gift certificates to the winners: one for the fastest canoe and one for the most creatively-constructed canoe.

Last year’s winner, modeled on a pirate ship, was both functional and decorative, says Wildschut.

“That’s a true anomaly right there. You usually don’t see that. That was neat. They had a little mast and a little canon at the front. It was pretty funny.”

The contest attracts a throng of students, friends of the canoe-makers, who cheer on their chosen teams.

“It’s great because we can do a social event for the engineering department and invite the rest of the campus as well,” Wildschut says.

~written by communications and marketing staff writer Myrna Anderson