Mushroom Surfboards

The next wave in eco-friendly blanks may be made of fungi

The mushroom surfboard from Ecovative, a New York-based packaging company. Photo: Lowe-White
The mushroom surfboard from Ecovative, a New York-based packaging company. Photo: Lowe-White

Well, somebody stole your fantastic idea. You know that plan you had to grow super strong, biodegradable foam out of mushrooms, and then mold that foam into an eco-friendly surfboard blank? Too late. Ecovative, a packaging company based in Green Island, New York, beat you to the punch.

Ecovative developed their signature packaging foam product, called Myco Foam, in 2007. It was designed specifically to compete with the synthetic foams normally used as packaging materials, especially Expanded Polystyrene (EPS), which is the same kind of foam used to make blanks for most epoxy boards. After Ecovative received a barrage of e-mails from sustainably minded surfers suggesting that the company branch out into surfboard building, the surfers on staff helped make the Mushroom® Surfboard (yep, they trademarked that) a reality.

The process of making (or growing, I suppose) the Myco Foam is brilliantly simple. At the Ecovative facility, agricultural waste from crop production—think corn husks, rice hulls, busted up bits of roots and stocks—is inoculated with the vegetative form of mushrooms, called mycelium. The inoculated mix gets pressed into molds, which can be any shape, and left for a couple of days to grow and harden. After a heat treatment to curb mycelium growth, the Myco Foam is ready for action. Usually that means shipping the foam off to factories to be used as packaging cushions, or, more recently, as insulation for eco-friendly homes. But now, as the company recently unveiled at the Boardroom Surfboard Show in Costa Mesa, Myco Foam can be shaped into a surfboard blank that is completely sustainable, and unlike the polyurethane boards cluttering up your garage, it’s also biodegradable.

Templates for the Myco Foam blanks are, for the time being, all prepared in-house by the Ecovative design team. Several shapers are in talks with Ecovative about licensing agreements, but so far nothing has been finalized. The company plans to mold the shapes as close to a finished blank as possible, from a wide variety of templates, so that not much hand-shaping will be necessary. This is at least partly because the foam is closer in consistency to feather-light particleboard than polyurethane or polystyrene foams, and is more easily sanded than planed. Keeping the blank soft and pliable enough to be easily shaped is a major focus of Ecovative, as they don’t want to compromise density. But potential shaping complications aside, the current composition of Myco Foam is naturally buoyant and very strong. The blanks can be glassed with traditional resins, both fiberglass and epoxy, though Ecovative is using a bio-based resin to glass their mock-up models.

What about dings, you ask? Like polystyrene, Myco Foam repels water naturally so the blank is about as susceptible to water damage as a normal EPS blank. Dry it up, patch it up—Myco Foam ding repair requires no special supplies.

When glassed with eco-friendly resins, a broken or discarded Mushroom® surfboard won’t clog up landfill space for eons like a petrochemical-based board. Growing Myco Foam relies on already-existing agricultural waste, so it requires far less energy to produce the foam compared to traditional foam blanks. Ecovative also says that their production costs are lower than most traditional blank manufacturers, and that those costs are expected to become even lower once they ramp up production.

All that’s left for Ecovative is to prove if—and it’s a big if—their blanks can stand up to the performance levels of the chemically-nasty foam boards we all know and love. A quality surfboard grown from mushrooms? The spaced-out ’70s soul rangers would have been so stoked.