Could the future of surfing involve less plastic and more mushrooms?
That is unquestionably the opinion of Porthcawl-based board designer Steve Davies, age 23.
Mr. Davies is creating his own plastic-free surfboard using an inventive material made from the root-like structures of mushrooms.
It might sound a little crazy, but there are alternatives to polystyrene, polyurethane, and resin boards, which can sit in landfills for hundreds to thousands of years before decomposing.
Over 400,000 boards are produced annually, according to Mr. Davies.
Eighty percent of these cannot be sustained.
In the end, he continued, "and even when it does break down, it can go into fish's ecosystem and bio-accumulate, so humans will end up eating this polystyrene plastic.".
The former design student created the idea as part of his senior thesis at Cardiff Metropolitan University, where he sought to address the negative environmental effects of the sport.
At this point, Mr. Davies began researching fungi.
A substance called mycelium is present in a variety of fungi. It develops a root-like structure that benefits many different natural ecosystems.
Additionally, it has been discovered that its properties hold a great deal of promise for other artificial uses.
Mr. Davies creates a natural skeleton structure in a mold and then uses mycelium to bind the two parts together.
The mycelium roots grow between the skeleton, which is made of materials like straw, to form a substance that resembles polystyrene and is perfect for molding a board.
Mushrooms wouldn't be sufficient on their own. The organic material would simply wash away in the absence of a waterproof coating, which is not ideal when looking for waves.
Mr. Davies has experimented with a variety of natural sealants, such as bees wax and linseed oil, to find a solution that will benefit the ride and have no negative environmental effects.
He claimed that mycelium's properties could be similar to those of a foam like polyurethane.
"I don't see any reason why mushroom boards couldn't be used in the top elite level of surfing, all the way down to beginner level, but it will take a little bit of modification and the right species of mushroom to grow it. ".
For the surfing community, who directly experience the effects of plastic pollution, the sport's ecological impact is of utmost importance.
Projects like Steve's, in the opinion of activist Izzy Ross from Surfers Against Sewage, are exactly what the neighborhood needs.
"The industry is absolutely not doing enough. I think the work being done by these small projects and the brilliant minds behind them to address this issue is fantastic, but the issue is more systemic than that, she said.
"Many surfers and water enthusiasts are aware of the harm that individual factors can cause. The majority of us, I believe, are very interested in it; they are just waiting for the innovations to take place. ".
Of course, if mushroom boards can't be produced commercially, this innovation won't mean much.
Is it really viable when competing with established, quick production lines?
Other board designers have experimented with comparable materials in recent years, but they have not yet been able to displace the standard plastic-heavy materials used in making boards.
Mr. Davies thinks that these boards may hold the key if given the proper support and infrastructure.
We can grow a mycelium board under the right circumstances in about 21 days, he claimed.
"The goal is to establish it as the new standard. The new design guidelines would emphasize connecting with nature, and many other things like that would be awesome. ".
"We're using the sea, we should give back to the sea, and it should be a circular model," Mr. Davies continued.