Concrete Humans: Vol. 4

Jonathan Lencewicz

We present to you one of the original Concrete Canoe members, Jonathan Lencewicz. Jon (also known as the Mixing Maestro and Concrete God) graduated in 2014 and was a two-year mixing captain at Concrete Canoe. We caught up with him recently to discuss the origins of the team and life after graduation.

– What have you been up to since you graduated?
I work for a railway contractor; my role is focused on the rehabilitation of railway bridges and culverts. It’s very project management oriented and often involves me having to read very old plans, or actual scans of old plans that were made by hand. The oldest one I had was in New Brunswick for an old stone arch, it was built in 1879 and it’s actually still holding up.

– How has Concrete Canoe helped you in your career?
The thing about academics is that if you take it at face value, you just go to school and get good grades, then you’re going to miss out on a lot of things. Like developing soft skills, such as leadership, communication, and time management skills. Once you graduate it’s too late, so when you’re in university you have to do it yourself. Take that step forward, try to find something you enjoy to get involved in. On the team I also gained some technical experience. Now when I’m on a work site and we’re pumping concrete to make a structure, I know a lot about it. After all we were making concrete float. Knowing how to make such a peculiar thing, you learn a lot about normal concrete and how it’s supposed to act. It’s a really valuable experience.

– Tell us about how the team started.
Before 2012, the team never actually got a canoe out to competition since 2003. In 2010 they had a canoe but it broke on the way to the competition, it snapped in half. Then in 2012 we decided to try again. I was the mixing captain then and we had a small team with 7 captains. We worked really hard because we had no baseline, nothing. We were contacting other teams trying to get a starting point. It was really challenging and interesting because you can’t exactly google how to make concrete float, relevant information is difficult to find. Initially, it required a lot of patience and a lot of trial and error. Once we started getting a product and understanding how it works, it felt great. It was really cool to create something pretty much from ashes.

– How did the team progress in the following year?
The next year we generated 123 mixes, we drastically changed it from the Kraken, we added a lot of new things. Also the following year I had to find someone to replace me, which turned out to be Julia Bond, so I had to keep that in consideration too. You can always read something in a book, but when you actually do it with your hands and when you actually see how the concrete reacted you’re going to remember it for a very long time. So the second year I tried to teach members as much as I could. That year we actually sunk Anakalypse during the race. We had to drag the canoe across the finish line, which got us a team spirit award. The reason was we were scared that the canoe would crack again during transportation, so we made the canoe stronger but gave up on density a bit. It floated, but with 4 people in it it didn’t quite make it to the finish line.

– What do you see in the future of the team?
It’s a really nice reward to see the team keep going forward. In 2012, there was a considerable amount of doubt, putting way too many hours but at the same time enjoying it and being passionate about it. You’re always nervous that the year after people might not have the same passion for building a concrete canoe; it takes a lot of man-hours, it’s not a one-man job. So to see the team move forward and have more and more members every year is amazing. Starting something is cool, but making sure it keeps going I think is the hard part, now I don’t see it ever ending. In the near future, I see us in first place and going to the American competition. Everyone believes in our product; every other team has been so impressed with the canoes we’ve been producing. If you look at the three years so for: Kraken, Anakalypse, and then Enigma. The standard is so high and we manage to compete with the big boys, those who have been doing it for 10 years plus.

– Any final thoughts?
I miss Concrete Canoe, but there is a time to go graduate. Once you do you’ll never have an experience like that afterwards. You’re making concrete float after all, at the end of the day not a lot of people can say that.