Cardboard Kayak Race, Redux

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina

Cardboard-kayak-race-100

Last year, I wrote about the first annual Cardboard Kayak Race, held on City of Water Day at Governors Island.  This year, I was in it!

No, it’s not what you’re thinking. We didn’t build a boat out of cardboard and then race it. But others did! And I was part of a fleet of “safety kayaks” whose job it was to rescue paddlers whose cardboard boats sank (and fish out the sodden detritus).

The 2014 Cardboard Kayak Race was hosted by Con Edison and the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance as part of NYC’s annual City of Water Day. Our friend Erik Baard, who runs the not-for-profit HarborLAB, supplied the safety kayaks for the day.

The challenge was straightforward: Each team (of up to 6 people) had to build a kayak from nothing but cardboard and tape. Specifically, the materials provided were: 10 sheets of 6 ft by 6ft corrugated cardboard; 3 rolls of black gaffing tape; and 10 rolls of clear waterproof packing tape.  Teams could bring their own tools, including wooden jigs, tape measures, knives, and the like.  But the final product had to be constructed of nothing but the cardboard and tape supplied.

The term “kayak” was largely notional: Any design was acceptable, so long as it floated and could be paddled by two team members.  Many boats, including some of the best performing, had high sides and a flat bottom. And one intrepid team built a cardboard paddleboard!

The racers had 2 hours to design and build the boats. Then it was time to race! The course ran out from Governors Island’s Pier 101 to a white buoy about 50 yards away; racers paddled out to the buoy, turned around, and paddled back.

The only catch? The race had several heats, and the winning boats then raced each other in semi-finals and the final. So the (increasingly waterlogged) cardboard of the winning boats had to withstand as many as three trips. And as the rules rather drolly state, “Boats that disintegrate mid-race will be disqualified.”

What happened? Did boats disintegrate? And who won?

Watch the slideshow to see. I will say that the final race was a nailbiter, pitting a beautifully-designed honest-to-God kayak (manned by two veteran paddlers from the North Brooklyn Boat Club) against last year’s reigning champions, Stevens Institute of Technology, in a deep-sided, flat-bottomed craft. Vlad captured the whole exciting story from his vantage point on dry land.

(Click on any photo to start slideshow—and be sure to read the captions!)

(These and other photos are here.)

And here’s a brief video of the highlights of the race:

74 responses to “Cardboard Kayak Race, Redux

  1. Great fun! I am a huge fan of clear packing tape — I’d say these are tape vessels with cardboard backing.

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    • Johna Till Johnson

      Hi Frank–Spot on. The tape provides a lot more than just waterproofing. If you pay close attention to the SS Stephens boat (along with others) you’ll see that its tensile strength is an important part of the design….. Good stuff! Thanks for reading, and posting.

      Like

  2. That’s a cool challenge. It’s got to be cool to see all the teams’ ingenuity, and even failures are bound to be a lot of fun.

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    • Johna Till Johnson

      Oh yeah! I had high hopes for Nancy and Tim’s paddleboard. Unfortunately some water got in at one corner… and that was all she wrote.

      Like

  3. OMG. It’s an amazing story, wonderful photos… I enjoy it so much! What a nice way to start my day! Thank you!

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  4. George Fatula

    Fun! Thanks.

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  5. Love it! What fun!

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  6. Too much fun. How fortunate to be there… and capture the spirit!

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  7. Awesome, looks like so much fun and pretty cool you actually paddle them!!! Sound like so much fun!

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  8. Oh what fun! Thank you! My day is made and I have sent the blog along to others I know will love it!

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  9. Looks like some crazy fun. They are fortunate to have you as a safety boater.

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  10. Thank you so much for the story and photos! Our team had 4 kids ages 9-11 (the pram design :), and protective decorations!) so while we paddled, only some shaky video was recorded. Nice to have these memories!

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  11. Sounds like an interesting event. Do the cardboard boats stay afloat for a long time?

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    • Some do… ;-)

      As Frank Winters commented above, these are really tape vessels with cardboard backing. So the more tape, the more waterproof the boat will be. Without enough tape, the cardboard will get soggy and disintegrate quite soon. And the tape ensures that all the parts hold together—if you put the tape in the right places. Many of the boats folded up right away. And of course nothing will help you if your boat is seriously unstable and capsizes repeatedly…

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  12. That’s great fun! :D

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  13. I cannot help but laugh looking at the photos. I feel like I was there. What a fun event for everyone. It would have made me sick to my stomach just laughing at the mishaps esp. Everyone’s a great sport.

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    • Well, it was pretty safe—a sunny, warm water, help right at hand… But we did watch some of the wobbly boats and so wanted them not to capsize, all the while knowing that the next second they would…

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  14. last year when I was reading about this is what got me to following your blog…just thought this was so much fun!

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  15. Wow, a lot of fun! Amazing.

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  16. This was exciting! Awesome to the max. Funny how you did a close up on the “motivation”. Haha!

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  17. What fun! I remember last year’s race as you shared it; this one was even more exciting! Thanks Johna and Vlad for sharing such a fun day!

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  18. Haha…that was real fun to view…must have been even better to experience first hand! :)

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  19. Look like a whole lot of Fun :-D

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  20. Very cool Johna, thanks for the pics Vlad!

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  21. such fun! great story and pictures! thanks for sharing

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  22. Some out for a duck, some in for a duck. What super fun you all seem to have had. Tell me – did anybody lazily opt for a raft and – had it been lashing rain, would the event have still gone ahead? Thanks for giving me this chuckle Johna and Vladimir. Terrific post.

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    • Well, Nancy and Tim and their team did build something like a raft—

      but that was no means a lazy solution. On the contrary, it took a lot of hard work to build up many layers of cardboard into a structure that was flat and stiff, with a lot of empty space inside so that it would float high enough. (Unfortunately, theirs proved to be not quite watertight, I think, and gradually filled up with water and started to capsize during the race…)

      Lashing rain? That normally shouldn’t have stopped the event—kayakers are used to getting wet, although there might have been fewer spectators with fancy cameras—but, on the other hand, the cardboard might have gotten wet before its time…

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      • I bow to thee N & T, well done, both of you. As for you, Johna and Vladimir, you have me singing again whilst Messing About on the River. Glad it didn’t rain and dissolve all the crafts too soon, such Jolly Boating Weather,…what!?

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  23. What a hoot! As long as everyone was a good swimmer, sounds like a great deal of fun. LOOKS like fun, too :-)

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  24. What a fabulous way to spend the day – thanks so much for sharing so much ingenuity :-)

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  25. What fun! Although I, like you, would opt for the safety kayak! Great photos.

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  26. I had no idea I was so behind on your blog! This is hilarious and I wondered who won until I watched the video. How long does an average craft last? The US Coast Guard team looked pretty serious : )

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    • The Coast Guard teams (there were two of them) were both serious contenders, but the Stevens team and the North Brooklyn Boat Club team were just a bit better…

      As you probably could see, the average craft didn’t last long enough even for one heat ;-)

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  28. Wow, that looks like a very fun day was had by all. I wouldn’t dare attempt using cardboard for something that is supposed to float on the water… :)

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  29. Our town does this each year, it’s a riot!!!

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  30. Pingback: Laughter | Wind Against Current

  31. Pingback: Cardboard Kayak Race 2015: The Thrill of Victory… And the Delight of Defeat | Wind Against Current

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