The summer months are synonymous with seaweed, and most surf sessions will have you paddle past clumps of it. Probably not a peep out there that hasn't grabbed a handful of it and either plakked it on their pip or hurled it at a mate. Shame on you if you've done neither.
Turns out that the weed isn't a plant after all, and is actually a marine macro-algae and one of the oldest forms of marine life. In a rather uncommon move for the science world, they kept things simple and just classified them as green, red and brown.
The weed (which isn't actually a weed) is part of the marine algae crew that pay their dues by producing about half the total oxygen on Earth. So next time you lob a piece at your mate you're gooi'ing a bit of the earth's lungs about. Weird, huh!?
The red and brown seaweeds grow mostly in salt water and green seaweeds grow primarily in fresh water. Seaweed is vital to the survival of marine creatures for food and habitat. Seaweed washed up on beaches feeds birds, crustaceans, and other wildlife. Even people! Ou's have been also been chowing seaweed for thousands of years!
Seaweed is chock-full of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. All the more reason to keep chomping that sushi. Plenty of the seaweed varieties contain anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial agents. Their known medicinal effects have been legion for thousands of years; the ancient Romans used them to treat wounds, burns, and rashes. And anecdotal evidence also suggests that the ancient Egyptians may have used them as a treatment for cancer.
In an irony not to be overlooked, just as a derivitive of land-based weed (cannabis oil) is being used to treat cancer, so certain seaweeds display the same cancer nuking properties. Researchers hope it will one day prove effective in the treatment of malignant tumors and leukemia. Japan has incredibly low cancer rates, and initially it was thought it was cos of the soy they ate, but turns out it is most likely the seaweed that's been doing the trick.
Seaweed is big bucks, and the annual market clocks in at about $6 billion from the 8 million tons cultivated. Not all of this is chowed though. Seaweed is used in manufacturing, and is an effective binding agent in stuff like toothpaste and fruit jelly.
It's what makes your jelly wiggle, your ice cream stay creamy and your milkshake stay thick. It is also used as a softener in organic cosmetics and skin-care products. And to make fertilizer and glassware. Yip, seaweed's the bomb.
Kelp is also in the seaweed family, and is part of the brown algae family. It differs from seaweed in that it's fussy, and likes to be attached to the sea floor, and only grows in shallow waters at specific temperatures. Lucky you, Cape Town.
Surfing in seaweed can be kinda fun, with the only major hassle being it all getting caught on your leash and making you feel like you towing an anchor on your leggie. Surfing in kelp is a whole 'nother ball game. The protruding kelp heads can be a serious hazard to your board. Klap one of those at speed and you go flying over the handle bars, or pop a fin out.
It is also particularly slimy to stand on. Ask anyone who learnt to surf at Muizenburg. Standing on that stuff all the time in the shallows is just plain siff. It's the reason I wear booties today. Got so grossed out by standing on it!
Seaweed's cool whilst it's in the water, but once it's piled up on the beach in the sun for a few days then things can get smelly! The anaerobic breakdown of sulfates in the seaweed leads to the production of hydrogen sulfide gas. Then, when the white kinda crust that's formed on the outside of the seaweed breaks because of waves rolling it about or people stepping on it, the gas releases into the air and gives off that all-too-familiar rotting eggs smell.
So next time you paddle past a clump of it you'll know a lil bit more about how important it is in the greater scheme of things. Then still go ahead and chuck it at your mate!