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man holding two blocks of mycelium growing golden oyster mushrooms

Mycelium, the rootlike structure of mushrooms. Photo: Shutterstock


The Inertia

A product design student in the United Kingdom has delivered one of the most “grounded” surfboard design ideas ever.

Many who have explored the world of mushrooms know that mycelium is the rootlike network of the fungus that contains some pretty cool properties. Research has explored the possibility that it facilitates communication between trees — and now, it could be the future of surfing.

That’s because a product design student at a U.K. university used the spongy material to create a surfboard prototype.

Steve Davies produced the board as his final project at Cardiff Metropolitan University in summer, 2022. To shape it, he first built a skeletonized structure with straw-like material, then let mycelium grow into it. Once it matured, it produced the equivalent of a foam blank — only fully biodegradable.

“The properties of mycelium compared to a foam such as polyurethane can be the same,” Davies told the BBC. “It will take a little bit of modification and the right species of mushroom to grow it but, eventually, I don’t see any reason why mushroom boards couldn’t be used in the top elite level of surfing, right down to beginner level.”

The idea first found footing in a place that may seem unlikely: the Davies family farm.

At the time, Steve wasn’t specifically interested in creating a surfboard. He just knew he wanted to work with mycelium, and that he wanted to use it in the capacity of “biophilic” design, he wrote in an online journal documenting the project. (Biophilic design focuses on bringing nature into things that are integrally human, like buildings and furniture.)

The Davies raise horses on their farm, and with ready access to straw, he had all the substrate he needed to grow mycelium. Davies now envisions a complete business model.

He sees “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.”

Understandably, compelling promises of sustainable gear can generate big traction in surfing. More companies and athletes have taken aim at the sport’s outsized reliance on plastic and styrofoam — coinciding with the increase of plastic pollution in the ocean.

Davies’ goal is to make a fully biodegradable board that could scale up to meet demand. So he’ll need a waterproofing solution that could replace fiberglass. So far, he’s tested beeswax and linseed oil.

It remains to be seen if Davies’ mushroom board can elbow its way into a consumer landscape that’s controlled by polyurethane and foam. But it’s not lost on him that his project likely needs commercial success to grow.

“In the right conditions, we will grow a mycelium board in around 21 days,” he told the 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.”

If the young designer summons the project into mainstream existence, his stated passion for the cause will likely be a big reason why.

“Moving forward, I fully intend to develop this product further,” he wrote. “It’s something I feel very passionate about and therefore want to carry these values forward to create a sustainable surfing brand that can collaborate with other eco-friendly companies and designers to help reduce the surfing industry’s impact on the environment.”

And while this isn’t the first stab people have taken at constructing surfboards from fungus, this time, the process might actually work on a much larger scale.

Watch the full BBC video, here. 

 
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