CLOVERDALE — In the world of competitive bricklaying, John Kerr was a defending champion, a master of mortar who set out to repeat his 2014 win of the regional Spec Mix Bricklayer 500 contest.
Kerr, who lives in the Gateway area of Surrey, was among competitors at the annual B.C. regional event, held at KPU’s Cloverdale campus last Wednesday afternoon (Oct. 21).
The mason and his brick-and-mortar-delivering tender, Richard Furrer, formed one of seven teams competing for a $500 top prize and, as the B.C. rep, a trip to a World of Masonry competition in Las Vegas in February.
“This competition is about skill and speed, so the guys have an hour to lay as many bricks as they can to build a wall, and the average is usually around 500 bricks, which is moving pretty darn fast,” said Carlos Zamora, who organizes the local event on behalf of his employer, Spec Mix.
The two-man masonry teams wore matching blue T-shirts, yellow ball caps and brown pants as they cleaned their taped-off stalls before the competition began.
As they prepped, a big mixer at one end of the warehouse poured mortar into wheeled tubs for delivery to each of the duos as they worked to build a 26-foot wall.
Wearing red T-shirts, a small team of judges roamed around as metal and hip-hop music rocked the big room, otherwise used as an art studio.
“As judges, we’re looking for voids, tipped bricks, lifted bricks and chipped bricks, and that’s something the tender should be looking after, making sure none of the bricks he puts down are chipped,” Zamora explained. “We’re also looking for joint thickness, either too fat or too skinny.
“We want them to go for speed and the number of bricks laid,” he added, “but we also want it to be a sellable wall, something that will look good on a job site, and that’s why we also have a craftsmanship prize (worth $400).”
In the stall at the far end of the room, a framed photo of Paul De Palma rested on a plank next to a written memorial.
“He was a masonry instructor here, and he was really amped about this competition and was going to compete as well,” Zamora said, “but unfortunately he passed away in the summer after having a heart attack while driving. That stall, that’s where he would have competed here today, so we’re paying tribute to him.”
De Palma also taught masonry at a high school in Maple Ridge, and some of those students wore orange T-shirts and helped wheel tubs of mortar to each competitor.
At around 2:30 p.m., the emcee barked out a countdown and the competition began.
Kerr was at the height of concentration as he got off to a flying start, setting brick after brick in quick fashion. His wife Cindy Brugger, along with other family and friends, formed a cheering squad.
“We’re hoping he gets back there to Vegas, for sure,” Brugger said. “It was an amazing experience last year.… He’s worked hard for this, and he loves his job.”
However, during their golden hour of hustle and determination, tragedy struck the tandem when Furrer slipped, lost his balance and bumped into a competitor’s wall, dislodging a few bricks.
“That’s an automatic disqualification in this competition,” Zamora said later.
In the end, the contest in Cloverdale was won by mason Riel Voigt, of S&S Masonry, with the help of tender Theo Van Tunen (pictured at left). Voigt laid 647 bricks, with no point deductions. He also took home the craftsmanship title.
During last year’s competition, held at the Trowel Trades Training Association complex on Industrial Road in Surrey, Voigt placed second after laying 348 bricks.
Other bricklayers in this year’s competition were Corey Stocks (with tender Jason Garnett), Charles Thifault (Glen Hansom), Sean Kelly (Matthew Wearmouth), Matt McDougall (Ryan Andres) and Derek Melo (Scott Arthurs).
“Some of the guys here are apprehensive because it’s their first time in the competition, but we also have some veterans here,” Zamora explained before the competition began.
“These are professionals. They took the day off today to work this, to win this. This is for bragging rights and they can also use this on their business card. It’s a big deal to them.”