4 July 2023

Kiama surfer saves surfboards from landfill and turns them into art

| Kellie O'Brien
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South Coast Kook Mathew King

South Coast Kook Mathew King has saved 30 surfboards from ending up in landfill so far. Photo: Supplied.

Unwanted surfboards are being saved from landfill and transformed into pieces of art.

Kiama coal miner turned stay-at-home dad Mathew King has a target to turn 100 surfboards into art, with 30 old boards already given a second life by workshop participants using SurfPaints pens at schools, festivals and daycare centres over the past 12 months.

Mathew said while he was already at capacity with donations of surfboards that were bound for refuse sites or stored in garages, he now had his sights on recycling snowboards for sustainable activations at winter-themed events, like the Kiama Winter Festival in July.

“I thought it would be fun to venture into snowboards because they’ve got the ice skating rink,” he said.

“I’ve never done them before, but I’ll use the same concept and add that wintry feel to the day.”

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Mathew said he started the South Coast Kook project 12 months ago, after having left coal mining to become a stay-at-home dad.

“I was doing a job that I didn’t particularly love,” Mathew said. “I don’t think anyone gets into coal mining because they love it.”

He said his wife ran a business she was passionate about, so it made sense for him to be the stay-at-home parent to their daughter.

“I spent a full year with her but I was never going to be the dad that would sit at home and vacuum the house while the little one slept, so I needed a passion project to work on,” he said.

“I started a podcast about surfing and answering people’s surfing questions.”

Aimed at the knockabout surfer with reviews and interviews with emerging and pro surfers, the podcast led him to meet SurfPaints owner Danny Smyth.

“I’m passionate about community, so I suggested we run these workshops and that’s where this career path took me,” he said.

“There’s not much you can do with a surfboard once it’s broken, so I wanted to do something with them.”

SurfPaints pens for surfboards

Workshop participants use SurfPaints pens to turn surfboards into art. Photo: Supplied.

Mathew runs workshops statewide for organisations and festivals, with the goal of entertaining children and improving mental health.

”It’s something a little bit different from your classic lizard show,” he said.

“We get some kids that come over and do a little bit of a squiggle and leave and that’s them done, but then we have some kids who will sit down for a couple of hours and draw.

“The one thing that’s really shocked me with this is the amount of people that actually want to keep the surfboard after we’re done.”

He donates one board to the event or festival and then raffles off another board for free.

“Some of the young kids are really passionate about trying to get these boards and it’s crazy to think that they were just going to get thrown to the tip.”

Apart from purchasing four boards himself, the remainder have been donated by the community.

“Everyone seems to have a board that’s broken or just sitting in the garage doing nothing,” he said. “They don’t all look pretty when I get them, that’s for sure.

“There’s a couple of hours involved removing old wax and I try to do a bit of a patch job so the participants don’t hurt themselves on the boards.

“There’s a bit of work, but at the end of the day, it’s worth it.”

drawing on a surfboard

Mathew King is also an ambassador for mental health, encouraging people to use saltwater therapy and art therapy. Photo: Supplied.

Mathew is also a massive ambassador for mental health and a believer in salt water therapy, and gives his time to One Wave as a tribe leader for fortnightly meetups called Fluro Fridays at Seven Mile Beach in Gerroa.

“I volunteer my time to rock up at the same beach at the same time once a fortnight and give that outlet for people in the local community that might be having a bit of a hard time,” he said.

“We all just sit around and have a bit of a yarn, checking on each other to see how we’ve been doing.

“I find this non-clinical approach is pretty welcomed among the community.

“If you said to someone, ‘Hey mate, I think you need therapy’, it gets treated negatively.

“We lend that ear for the people that might need it.

“After that, we jump in the water and go for a surf and wash it all away.

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“I always make a point to paddle up to people that might have had a bit of a rough week and check in with them more closely in the water, because people tend to talk a bit more once they’re in that ocean environment.

“That connects to what I’m doing as well with drawing and that kind of art therapy.”

He said while he wasn’t an art therapist, it was a chance for kids to sit down and switch off.

“We’ve done them at music festivals where it might be their first music festival that the kids are going to see, which can be pretty intimidating,” he said.

“So this gives them a safe space as well, which is what I intended.”

South Coast Kook’s next major events include Kiama Winter Festival from 7 July; a Paint-A-Skateboard Workshop, for those aged 12-24, on 15 July at Werri Beach Progress Hall, Gerringong; and Splendour in the Grass from 21 July in Byron Bay.

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