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Muddy Magic

spring 16

 
IN A TRUE SURFER’S WORLD , only the waves matter. 
 
Reading the ocean – the tide, the heave and the sigh as it breathes and moves – is needed to see the perfect wave coming and to fully work it. And when the ocean pumps, a surfer will work with the rhythm, feel and flow for as long as they can physically last, the rest of the world be damned. 
 
Jason Coleman and Jason Anfield have spent great slabs of their lives surfing together.
 
Childhood friends, their surfing passion started on the Sunshine Coast and has taken them all over the world, while a grand idea has anchored them right back on the coast. 
 
Jason Anfield, 45, now a Brisbane­based business manager, and Jason Coleman, 44, a construction manager on the Sunshine Coast, are the brains and elbow grease behind Surfmud, a handmade sun cover that stays on wave riders’ faces all day.
 
The entrepreneurial pair’s creation has become a must­have for Sunny Coast surfers, and their grassroots business is about to get much, much bigger. 
 
“I could say we are just a couple of crazy cooks, I guess,” Jason Coleman says. “But if you stand back, we are surfers who just want to stay out as long as possible. That is and was the motivation – surfing, the waves, staying there. Surfmud lets us do that.” 
 
Although no one knew it then, the first smidgen of Surfmud was lying dormant in, of all things, a high end cosmetic company’s SPF15 women’s day cream. Jason got wind of it from a couple of Bondi surfers he met while riding a remote break in Indonesia, the kind you had to walk a couple of hours through rugged tropical terrain to find. 
 
“These guys swore by it, and I have to admit I thought ‘yeah, right’ when they first told me about it,” Jason says. “I said, ‘A women’s skin cream? Seriously?’ But this stuff just did not come off – you had to take it off with soapy water and a towel – and we did not get fried, even if we were out there all day in that tropical sun. That alone was good enough for me.” 
 
Near the equator, the sun can be merciless. Combine this with high humidity and as many a surfer can testify, regular sunscreens rarely live up to what is printed on the packaging.
 
This is likely due to the sunscreen not being absorbed as effectively into the sweaty skin, allowing the sun to bite down hard. And one day of letting sun protection slide can ruin a surfer’s whole week, with blisters, sunstroke and dehydration stealing precious waves out from underneath. 
 
Jason says he became an unlikely regular customer at the department store cosmetics counter until a dreadful day the uniformed attendant broke the news that the company had discontinued the product. The very properties that made it a surfer’s best friend – being thick and unmoving – made it a sadly unpopular beauty item. 
 
So Jason determined that he needed to find a way to make his own so he could protect his own face and stay out in the waves longer without fussing over sunscreen. Calling on his lifetime friend, together they began the process of mimicry. The initial attempts were a long way from the Surfmud of today.
 
Because the original cosmetic product was American, all ingredients were listed on the label, and so the men began to experiment, retaining the ingredients they loved and finding ingredients that were environmentally and bodily friendly in place of the nasties. 
 
“As with most surfers, I have always been concerned for the environment,” he says. “My father was an organic farmer, so that certainly informed my awareness as well. Of course, as a kid, I would wear zinc cream on my face and a t­shirt, and then when sunscreen came in, I would wear that. But so much changes in that space – a so­called wonder chemical such as oxybenzone might be promoted as the best thing and then years later warnings are issued about its potential to mimic and disrupt hormones. 
“All I know is that I was always aware that you are better to physically block the sun than screen it because that avoids having chemicals go into your body and blood.” 
 
Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are minerals that physically block the sun’s rays. They act in a similar way to a shirt or a hat, because they sit atop the skin reflecting UV radation. Zinc oxide is more stable in sunlight and offers better UVA protection than titanium dioxide so it was deemed the winner. 
 
The problem with zinc is it is thick and pasty, and the Jasons found that created a fertile field for experimentation – to get the right balance of natural oils and ingredients that help spread it and most importantly keep it in place all day. 
Jason says he and his partner produced about 300 formulations of five to 10 tubs at a time: broad recipes initially, then tiny baseline tweaks and shifts that they felt in their bones would bring their Eureka moment.
 
Because they each have fulltime jobs, each formulation would occupy them from knock­off time on a Friday night to midnight on a Sunday. Along the way, the formulations were then tested on real, salt water­loving surfers, not animals, although Jason says with tongue in cheek that sometimes, when he considers the board riders who gave it a burl, that could be a line call. 
 
Eventually, the Jasons nailed it, as anyone who is anyone in the Sunshine Coast surfing community will tell you. In 2009, the guys started sharing Surfmud with their close friends. In 2014, salt­encrusted lips were flapping so much about how good it was, the Jasons started to have it made in commercial quantities and distributed through local Sunny Coast surf shops and by surfing the online waves, to surfers far further afield.
 
The first batch of 10,000 tins will be distributed in time for spring. 
 
The process and precise formulation are a well­guarded secret, eluding the copycats who have already had a go but sorely missed. And not content with having saved surfers’ faces, the entrepreneurs have been toying with a Surfmud lotion formula, too. 
Jason says Surfmud comes in a single colour partly because it keeps it simple and partly because of their dedication to keeping things natural. But how did they select the distinct mocha shade? 
 
“It is my skin tone,” Jason says. “I call it crusty white surfer: sun-damaged and tanned. It turns out it suits the majority of customers. It was not made to be fashionable; we are just a core surf brand.” 
 
The men have so­far channelled every cent made back into the product and still have not given up their day jobs. But the tide has turned, bringing to shore the good things they have worked for. 
 
So if it is designed to stay put, how do surfers get it off? Jason says makeup remover, natural oils or a soap and a washer will do the job. “Or you can do what my son does and just never take it off,” he says. “He just has a permanent covering, ready for anything.” 
 
words jane fynes-clinton
 
surfmud.com