The Cardboard Kayak Race

By Johna Till Johnson 

Every now and then something comes along that’s just a sheer delight from start to finish.

Yesterday, it was this video of the 2013 City of Water Day’s First Annual Cardboard Kayak Race.  It features practically all of my favorite things: kayaking, engineering, competition (the thrill of victory and the cold splash of defeat), creativity, ingenuity, and whimsy. All on a beautiful summer’s day in New York!

The event was hosted by the Metropolitan Water Alliance, a not-for-profit that, in its own words, “works to transform the New York and New Jersey Harbor and Waterways to make them cleaner and more accessible, a vibrant place to play, learn and work with great parks, great jobs and great transportation for all.”

The Cardboard Kayak Race is exactly what it sounds like: Teams of competitors are each given identical materials from which they construct, and then race, cardboard kayaks. Starting materials include:

  • 10 5×5 squares of cardboard
  • 10 rolls of packing tape
  • 3 rolls of gaffer tape, and
  • a box knife

The video is long (though well worth watching—it will leave you laughing with joy!). But  if you’re pressed for time, here are some highlights:

  • The first 12 minutes feature various shots of boat construction
  • At 12:00, judging commences. You’ll meet the teams, which include the Brooklyn Bridge Park Boathouse, the NYC Watertrail Village Community Boathouse, the High School of Math, Science, and Engineering Alumni, El Centro (from Staten Island), the North Brooklyn Boathouse, the Stevens Institute of Technology, the Stuyvesant High School Village Community Boathouse, and the US Coast Guard Marine Inspectors.
  • There’s a great comment at 17:30 where the judge asks the Coast Guard team, “Which do you think is the front part of the boat?”, then adds, “I don’t want to confuse you with technical questions!”
  • The race begins at 18:18
  • There’s a nail-biter of a finish at 19:15
  • Disastrous and heartbreaking collision at 19:50
  • Dramatic capsize at 20:46

It’s all wonderful fun, and well worth the watch!

22 responses to “The Cardboard Kayak Race

  1. had to share with some friends who are avid kayakers…so fun…


  2. I’m so very glad you posted this! I was inland working the BLDG 92 table at the event. I couldn’t get away to see it. Thank you.


  3. What a tribute to ingenuity and creative engineering – loved this video! The winning boat was pretty amazing. Thanks for sharing this – were you both at the event?


    • Johna Till Johnson

      We didn’t even know it was happening, or we’d have been there for sure! Maybe next year…. Thanks, as, always, for reading, watching and posting!


  4. Thanks for sharing this Johna! It was so much fun to watch! I totally agree with you, that it was “just a sheer delight from start to finish.”
    I found myself analyzing each team’s boat building techniques (cuz I’m such an expert…hehe…not) to help me decide which one to root for…but I ended up cheering everyone on. Now I’m inspired to construct my own. Well, maybe I’ll start by improving my kayaking skills first. But I’m definitely inspired! :)


  5. Reblogged this on Miki Kuwabara Photography and commented:
    Fun stuff! Worth the watch! :)


  6. Fantastic Vladmir, just wonderful. Thanks for sharing.


  7. that sounds like so much fun! makes me want to gather those materials and see what disaster i can create! z


    • Johna Till Johnson

      I know, doesn’t it? And they’re all so different! Amazing how many different solutions to the same problem….


  8. Love the whole concept … and your pictures :-)


  9. What fun! I just put up a post about being on the Mississippi River in a (not cardboard, thank God) sea kayak! When a barge passed by, the wake looked to me like a tsunami! check it out if you can at


  10. Great fun! I love anything that floats and one can go across water in – but in my case, preferably with sails!


  11. Pingback: Cardboard Kayak Race, Redux | Wind Against Current

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