With less than three weeks before its regional competition, Cal Poly’s concrete canoe team was in the middle of sanding and completing the designs of its boat when sheltering-at-home orders forced them to stop working and leave campus.
“The paddlers had been practicing intensively all winter quarter and were in great shape for the competition, so it was a shame we didn’t get to compete,” said Jerry Ding, project manager of this year’s team.
Had the team advanced from the regionals, as it typically does, it would have competed for a record-breaking sixth national championship June 13-15. But COVID-19 proved to be a bigger foe than any other school.
Like the concrete canoe team, Cal Poly’s successful steel bridge squad was also set to compete at the regional competition at CSU Fullerton, scheduled to begin in April, and would have likely advanced to the nationals in Madison, Wisconsin.
“The bridge was about 90 percent completed through its fabrication phase,” said Jose Chalapa Diaz, project manager. “The captains and I were already planning on construction trial runs for competition.”
The two teams operate under the umbrella of Cal Poly’s chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers. Each year, the ASCE features regional and national competitions featuring a variety of activities. The concrete canoe and steel bridge competitions are the most popular of those.
Concrete canoe teams design and build canoes out of concrete, then race them in several categories. Their competition also involves technical and oral presentations.
The steel bridge team plans and designs a one-tenth model steel bridge that it has to re-build in a timed event during the regionals. Cal Poly’s steel bridge team has won seven regional competitions since 2009 and has finished in the top ten nationally in eight of those years.
Chalapa Diaz estimates that the steel bridge team’s six captains put in 2,500 hours of work through the year.
“To be completely honest, we were devastated when we heard the news that the steel bridge competition was canceled,” said Chalapa Diaz, who had already taken care of transportation plans and logistics to attend the regional competition at CSU Fullerton.
The concrete canoe team did earn one victory: Its technical proposal was completed and awarded first place regionally.
But instead of gearing up for national competition in Madison, both teams prepared the next teams for competition.
“We wanted to use this time wisely to transition to the next year and come back stronger,” Ding said. “We selected the captains for next year’s team and have been holding meetings to transfer knowledge and discuss innovations.”
That transfer of knowledge – which has to be done virtually this year — has been a staple of both teams through the years and an important aspect of its continual success.
“We had weekly lectures with the entire team going over every single phase of our year-long steel bridge project,” said Chalapa Diaz. “We met individually with junior captains to discuss, in detail, their roles as the next steel bridge senior captains.”
Eventually, Ding said, the 2019-2020 team hopes to finish its Arctic-themed canoe – named Borealis — and display it on campus.
“ASCE might allow teams to present this year’s canoe to next year’s competition,” he said. “We’ll find out when the new competition rules come out in early September.”