Brave wayfarers battled waves at West Beach on Saturday in vessels forged from cardboard, duct tape and a prayer.
The Santa Barbara Maritime Museum’s eighth annual Kardboard Kayak Race pitted teams of four against each other in a contest to construct functional kayaks made entirely from two sheets of cardboard held together with tape. Competitors vied for the coveted golden cardboard trophy in separate heats; the “family fun heat” for children under 14 and the “pro heat” for paddlers 15 and up.
Racers were given just one hour to build their kayaks and then had to run from shore with boats in hand, board them, paddle out roughly 30 feet around a buoy and back before the other contestants to win.
Museum volunteer coordinator Jennifer Haake described just how seriously some contestants take the races.
“We tend to get people from UCSB Engineering who call in asking technical questions, like the dimensions of the cardboard,” she said with a laugh. “One mistake people often make is that they’ll focus on designs that are technically faster, instead of ones that will float.”
Designs varied wildly among the 32 teams at this year’s competition, with some going for traditional kayak designs, to rafts and even some that involved standing up to paddle.
Chris Kruse, a mechanical engineering graduate from the University of Colorado Boulder, said the races’ main hurdles are encountered right at the start.
“Our biggest challenge is going to be to keep the boat from collapsing or water-logging it as the rider enters to start the race,” he said.
Many teams with colorful names like “Titan Uranus” and the uber patriotic, “’Merica,” entered the fray, but few stayed afloat long enough to reach the shore. Among the winners was team “Kraken,” whose vessel was captained by Ethan Edney, 16, who captured first place in the pro heat.
Edney’s kayak was co-designed by his father, Graham, an aerospace engineer.
The adults were able to outpace Edney on land but his light weight proved to be an advantage once out on the water.
“When the race started I slipped and was pretty far behind,” he told Noozhawk. “I thought we were done, but by the time I rounded the buoy most of the competition was swimming back to shore.”
Santa Barbara Maritime Museum executive director Greg Gorga said kids often succeed in making it back to shore dry — largely because they’re lighter than adults, he surmised.
“It’s either that, or because parents take more care to build sturdy kayaks when they’re being piloted by their children,” he laughed.
Other first-place winners included teams “Will it Float” and “The Team that Must Not be Named,” which were awarded goodie baskets along with their trophies. Second- and third-place winners were also awarded the baskets.
The Kardboard Kayak Race is an annual event and will return to West Beach again next year. Click here for more information about the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum.