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Helmut Schmidt, Published February 18 2011

At South, whatever floats your boat

Students from Fargo South High School don’t just get their feet wet when it comes to testing their engineering skills. They’re likely to get soaked.

Thursday was the day of truth for 16 students, who took kayaks they built from PVC pipe, clear shrink wrap, duct tape and twist ties and gave them a baptism in the school’s pool.

“YEAAHHHH!” yelled sophomore Zander Mairis, as he quickly shot the length of the pool with the Team BJZK’s entry.

“I didn’t think it was going to be quite that good,” he said after his test ride. “The chair is great!”

Instructor Mark Langlie said the winners of the challenge would “get to stay dry” – and could claim bragging rights.

Langlie said he got the idea from an episode of a PBS show called “Design Squad.” He said the students had a month to apply their classroom knowledge to design and build the 10-foot kayaks.

True to its name, the “Titannic” sank, and sank often. But the students of Team Vetschkins said they learned practical engineering skills from the project.

“We should have made it a little wider,” lamented sophomore Shane Bunn.

Bunn said the group made catapults and miniature bridges during their first semester of the class. The kayaks were their largest undertaking yet.

“It was kind of a challenge,” he said.

In a rollicking kayak relay race, Team BJZK early on was outpacing Team Stuff, Delta Tape Force, and the chronically drenched Vetschkins. They appeared to have a lock on the win until the final turn, when their kayak swamped.

That’s when Team Stuff caught up and pulled away for the victory.

Team Stuff’s paddlers didn’t necessarily have a lot of confidence. “I’m not good at the kayak,” said sophomore John Streifel. But they had an ace in the hole with senior Tristan Ford, who has built eight kayaks.

“Some things didn’t work. Some things did,” Ford said. “We found out how much duct tape holds. Not much.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583