Un-fungi-believable! Artist creates a usable kayak out of mycelium

Funghi on an Oak tree branch at Rydal, Lake District
(Image credit: Getty Images / Ashley Cooper)

Google, “What are kayaks made of?” and top hits include roto-molded polyethylene resins, thermoformed plastic, fiberglass, carbon, wood. But you’d have to go in for some deep-dive internet search voodoo before you came up with mushrooms as an option.

But it is possible. Sort of.

California-based sculptor and mushroom enthusiast Sam Shoemaker has a passion for creating art out of mushrooms, and his latest project has been growing a fungus kayak.

Shoemaker has posted photos and videos of his home-grown watercraft to Instagram, revealing a 15-foot floating, paddle-able object that could generously be termed a kayak but is more like a sit-down paddleboard, to be fair (where’s the cockpit?).

Shoemaker says he used an ocean fishing kayak to create the mold inside which the structure grew, so he can call it a kayak if he wants.

To be precise, Shoemaker didn’t use actual mushrooms, but mycelium, which is the root-like structure of a fungus consisting of a mass of branching, thread-like tendrils. The fruiting bodies of fungi, such as mushrooms, can sprout from a mycelium.

Here’s the science, according to Shoemaker himself: “A hemp substrate was used to propagate this mycelium inside a two-part mold over the course of about four weeks. After the gestation period, the mycelium was dried to render a strong, hydrophobic and inert cork-like material. The boat was sealed with locally sourced beeswax. No rigid internal support fame or hardwood was used.”

He does admit, though, that his chosen material is a little too light to make a properly practical boat. “For the people who have said 135lbs is an impractical weight for a boat this size, I agree,” says Shoemaker. “Using a wild mushroom to build a boat is something worth doing, but highly impractical.”

Having said that, he does plan to grow more boats in the future.