Are Mushrooms the Wave to Plastic-Free Surfing?
Surfing is getting even closer to nature.
Rather than plastic, Steve Davies – a 23-year-old board designer based in Porthcawl, Wales – is developing a surfboard made from mycelia, the root-like structures of mushrooms and other fungi.
“It sounds a little bit crazy, but it’s a way to get away from polystyrene, polyurethane and resin boards that can sit in landfill and not decompose for hundreds to thousands of years,” Davies told BBC.
According to Davies, more than 400,000 boards are made each year. A 2022 report noted that the global market for surfboards reached $2.2 billion in 2020 and is expected to reach $3.2 billion by 2027.
But about 80% of boards are not made sustainably, which will become more of an issue as the market grows.
Many boards are made from plastic, which can take hundreds of years to break down.
“And even when it does break down, it can go into fish’s ecosystem and bio-accumulate, so it ends up that humans will end up eating this polystyrene plastic,” Davies said.
Davies made his first surfboard in 2020, but the experience showed him how many harmful chemicals go into the process of making each board. During his final year at Cardiff Metropolitan University, he started looking into mycelia and making his beloved sport more sustainable.
“Starting off by collecting substrate was incredibly convenient for me, with my family owning a farm with horses, I was quickly able to gather substrate material in the form of horse bedding and straw, to allow the mycelium to grow in,” Davies explained in a project journal. “This sparked an idea to start a business/surfboard manufacturer from an agricultural point of view — growing surfboards on a farm near the beach whilst using waste materials from that very same farm, reducing the transport of materials, and therefore reducing carbon released into the environment.”
The mycelium works to connect a natural board skeleton made in a mold, which is then coated with a waterproof material. Davies has tested various materials for the coating, including beeswax and linseed oil, as BBC reported.
Davies hopes to eventually scale up to a commercial level, but will need to make sure the boards are durable, high-performance, and quick to produce in order to compete with conventionally manufactured surfboards.
“In the right conditions, we will grow a mycelium board in around 21 days,” Davies told BBC. “The dream would be to make it the new norm. Connecting with nature would be the new design rules and a lot of things like that would be really cool. We’re using the sea, we should give back to the sea and it should be a circular model.”
Davies is not the first to attempt to develop surfboards from mycelium. Companies like ENV Boards and Ecovative have also experimented with mycelium to create surfboards. The mycelium board from ENV Boards was displayed in the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center in San Clemente.
While working with the organic material poses a unique set of challenges for creating products like surfboards, it is a strong, naturally biodegradable material that could help reduce the amount of plastic in the industry.