Mission Beach entrepreneurs driven to create eco-friendly sunblock

Mission Beach entrepreneurs driven to create eco-friendly sunblock
By Lucia Viti | 
Nicolette Remmel and Maxine Chapman on their van. / Photo by Jonathan Schumann
Nicolette Remmel and Maxine Chapman on their van. / Photo by Jonathan Schumann
Nicolette Remmel and Maxine Chapman in their van. / Photo by Jonathan Schumann
Nicolette Remmel and Maxine Chapman in their van. / Photo by Jonathan Schumann
SurfDurt is a non-toxic, water-resistant, physical barrier sunblock.
SurfDurt is a non-toxic, water-resistant, physical barrier sunblock.
Revolutions are sparked by an underbelly of discontent. Something is wrong. And someone – or two – will serve as a catalyst for change. Revolutionary change. 

Mission Beach residents Maxine Chapman and Nicolette Remmel are revolutionaries who refuse to simply dream about a future that respects the coral reefs. They’re doing something about, slather upon slather of sunscreen. 

The entrepreneurs have rolled out SurfDurt, a non-toxic, water-resistant, physical barrier sunblock. Not only is the organic “durt” a healthier and more effective sunscreen, SurfDurt is also reef-safe. This eco-friendly suntan protection will save the world’s dwindling coral reefs. 

“SurfDurt is sun protection that’s better for our oceans and better for your skin,” said Chapman. “Chemical sunscreens, however proficient in combating harmful UV rays, are toxic to your body and the ocean waters. Physical barrier sunscreens are just what they’re called – a physical barrier that reflects UV rays. Because physical barriers are not absorbed into the skin, they’re non-toxic to the body and they don’t pollute the waters.”

SurfDurt contains a non-nano zinc oxide, a mineral powder that reflects sunrays without seeping into the skin. This active ingredient is reef safe with a zero percent toxicity level. Chemical sunscreens contain nanoparticles that are immediately absorbed into the skin’s dermal layer causing “oxidative stress that endangers skin cells and the coral reefs.”

SurfDurt is also paraben-free. Parabens – preservatives – give cosmetics, lotions and creams a “creamy mayonnaise” texture. But not only are parabens linked to “estrogen disruption,” they lack “conclusive scientific evidence” for “metabolizing out of the body,” causing concern for its unknown cumulative effects. 

Chapman’s father, a Hawaiian “waterman,” who doubles as a scientist and a chemist, recognized the toxicity of sunscreen to the ocean’s eco systems early on. Teaching Maxine “his Ph.D. in layman’s turn since I was a little girl,” SurfDurt began as a kitchen project as a way “not to be a part of the problem,” and carted to the beach in plastic containers. 

Many versions of the “Tupperware stuff” were shared with fellow surfers, including long-time high school friend “Nicki” Remmel. The home-made sunblock remedy was a huge hit. 

Remmel served as the catalyst for bringing the product to market. Although not the first physical barrier sold in this niche market, other products fell short. 

“Everything else smelled funny, turned hot in the water, or looked like white war paint,” said Remmel. “We changed the user experience so it smelled nice – naturally, like cookies; didn’t sting the eyes or cause skin breakouts; and it’s good for every outdoor sport, especially surfing. We are the product’s consumers.”

“We fiddled with the pigment, the texture, consistency, the smell, its water-resiliency, and endurance,” added Chapman. “We especially didn’t want lifeguard, all-white, clown-nose war paint. The Tupperware carried many revisions before Nicki and I trademarked our recipe.” 

What was once mixed in stovetop pots is now manufactured in small batches, through solar-powered, “dad-inspired machines” on family-operated assembly lines. The clan affair has everyone donning lab coats, gloves, hair nets in a space forfeited by “mom.” 

Manufacturing is described as extensive.

“Everything is a process,” continued Chapman. “There’s a process to ensure the lotion’s smoothness and consistency and a process to ensure the proper distribution of minerals. Without chemical add-ins, it’s a long process that includes a heating element, a grinding element, an emulsifying element and a distribution element.” 

Because sunscreens advertise to prevent cancer, they’re categorized as an over-the-counter drug that requires Federal Drug Administration approval. Tested as a medical treatment – as opposed to a cosmetic, – the FDA requires laboratory proof for every advertised claim. Although costly, the girls “hung in” for almost two years. 

“Because SurfDurt is a physical barrier sunscreen that blocks cancer cell accelerators it’s considered a drug,” continued Chapman. “We spent an enormous amount of time complying with all of the FDA rules and requirements. And that’s o.k. We’re thrilled to be among people who care. We mix a formula, but you’re the real solution. We’ll make it but we can’t save the eco system unless you buy it.”

Essential to our ecosystem, coral reefs provide the world its oxygen. 

“Life on land cannot continue without the preservation of this gravely endangered underwater ecosystem,” said Chapman. 

The 2017 World Economic Forum estimates between 6,000 to 14, 000 tons of man-made toxic pollution is destroying coral reefs world-wide. Chapman and Remmel both agree, “the numbers are scary.” The devastation of coral reefs tally at a 99 percent decline in the Florida Keys; 85 percent in the Caribbean; and 40 percent decline in Hawaii and the Great Barrier Reef 

Convinced that the systems will die, “it’s just a matter of when,” Marine biologists have conducted isolated experiments to understand the cause of the destruction. Because coral reefs naturally repair, pinpointing the chemical culprits would afford a resolution. Research results have directly attributed chemical pollution to toxic sunscreens. 

The problem, say the duo, is “prolific.” One drop of a common sunscreen chemical, Oxybenzone, damages coral reefs estimating a quarter-mile in length. Adding insult to injury, ninety-percent of sunscreens sold contain a laundry list of equally toxic chemical pollutants. 

“Minimizing chemical pollution gives the ecosystems a chance to replenish themselves,” said Chapman. “It’s amazing. We can clean our oceans by making one small, exponential and important change – sun protection that’s truly reef-safe.”

Named to “encompass the natural, raw not quite mud texture and consistency,” SurfDurt will solidify in the cold – although will soften easily – and will soften in direct sunlight. Cool storage is suggested. SurfDurt spreads easily and Chapman and Remmel agree, “apply generously.” The duo have taken “care for ecological packaging” and encourage reuse of SurfDurt through their recycling program.  

Remmel, who touts a bachelor of arts in international studies and Chapman, who touts a bachelor of art in humanities and art, describe their eco-friendly concoction as a “good cool.” 

The revolutionaries share Remmel’s van that serves as home, office and mode of transport in order to “pump money into the company instead of rent.” When not on road trips cold calling, the van is parked in front of the best surfing spots between Pacific Beach and Ocean Beach. 

While the sunscreen team dream of growing world-wide, they won’t deviate from solar powered manufacturing. 

“No matter how big we get, anything but solar powered manufacturing is a step in the wrong direction,” said Remmel. “SurfDurt is an environmentally conscious product. We’re not about to step backwards by the way it’s made.”

Reception for SurfDurt has been “kind and receptive.” 

“Lots of no’s for every yes,” said Remmel. 

“SurfDurt is an amazing blend of a natural sun protection that’s rich in skincare nutrients,” said Theresa Renfro, owner of Point Loma’s en concordia. “SurfDurt is a perfect nontoxic sun care lotion that prevents hyper-pigmentation and loss of elasticity. SurfDurt is a beautiful sensorial sunscreen that complements our line of clean beauty products.” 

The revolutionaries never imagined SurfDurt would become their careers but agree that it’s a dream come true.

“We want to do what Patagonia did for rock climbing,” concluded Remmel. “Climbers used to drill and damage the rocks they so loved to climb. Patagonia changed that by creating climbing equipment to avoid drilling. SurfDurt is vested to do the same so surfers don’t leave a damaging trail in the water.”

You can find SurfDurt at Salt Water Supply Store (OB), Ocean Beach Surf & Skate (OB), Aqua Adventures Kayaks & Paddleboards (Mission Bay), Play It Again Sports (PB), PB Surf Shop (PB), En Concordia (Point Loma), Bird's Surf Shed (OB). 


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