Just as a basketball player regards the court and a baseball player the field, so must a surfer care about the quality of the ocean and beach. As a water athlete for over a decade now, I’ve always considered myself environmentally respectful. When I leave the beach, I make sure that all my trash is picked up, and I even go as far as to cut the loops of plastic six-pack holders to prevent damage to marine life. It wasn’t until doing research for a recent project on ocean preservation that I realized my responsibility falls far beyond this.
I did not realize how many facets of coastal conservation there actually are. I only learned this by beginning to fulfill the biggest responsibility of all: becoming educated and aware of the ocean. In an attempt to perpetuate a thirst for not only waves, but knowledge about the oceans in which they reside, today I pay homage to one of the most loathed obstacles in a surfer’s path – kelp.
When I first paddled out into California ocean, it wasn’t the icy water that got to me so much as the masses of seaweed that caught my leash and fins, holding me off of a number of waves. For years now, I have cursed this mosquito of ocean plants and wondered what, if anything, is the reason for kelp. Being a very non-science person who grew up surfing crystal-blue reef breaks, only recently during my research on coastal preservation did I finally find my answer.
Photosynthesis, the process by which green plants use water, carbon dioxide and the energy of sunlight to produce simple sugars, is one of the only ways to capture new energy to sustain life on earth. In the marine environment, one of the primary places that photosynthesis occurs is in the illuminated surface layer of the open sea. Seaweed jungles are close to the coast in extreme quantities. Kelp forests and beds are highly productive as an energy source, and also provide a special habitat for a host of marine organisms. Some types of the algae also play a big part in the formation of coral reefs.
When I learned this, I couldn’t help but think of all the A-frames that would be no more without the reef. Then I thought of all the beautiful ocean organisms that must rely on kelp as a huge energy producer. I shared my newfound respect for kelp with my roommate during one of our routine surf checks. As an avid surfer and member of many coastal preservation groups, she welcomed the news and joined in my excitement. She also pointed out, as we looked out from backyards during one of the recent windstorms, that the shore break was shielded from the whitecaps out at sea by none other than the masses of kelp beds. If it wasn’t for the snaky seaweed, Pescadero would have been completely blown out and we wouldn’t have surfed that day.
My appreciation for seaweed now extends beyond the Dragon Roll at Sushi Teri, and I owe that to educating myself about the ocean. Through my research I found countless other facts and figures that watermen should know about their coasts. Surfers are athletes and the ocean is our playing field. It may not be manmade, but only man can help it survive. So I challenge other surfers to learn about the ocean, live it and then forever we can surf it.