‘Surf’ fashion has become increasingly popular in recent years, to the extent that people in central London kit themselves out with Rip Curl, Quiksilver, Headworx and other trendy surf brands. This has been accompanied by a move towards ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ beauty products, as more and more of the fashion industry jumps on the bandwagon: surfers have traditionally been on the ‘alternative’ fringe, therefore naturally tend towards such products to complement their oneness with nature. In the same way that mainstream ‘surf’ fashion is not really what your average board babe (or bloke) would wear, the ‘natural extract’ products being marketed are not really what we use… Why? Because they’re not up to the job! A twice daily sesh in chilly (I’m talking about the UK here…), salty water, with lots of yummy UV from the sun, plus gritty sand can take its toll on skin and hair. Beauty product manufacturers, bless ‘em, don’t really design their products to cope with this. As a result of this and the hippy tendencies of surf culture, your average surfer uses very different products to keep up appearances… So here are all the secrets so you can prove how surf you are to all your friends…
There is one product that stands out above all others when it comes to stopping your skin turning into painful red fish flakes: shea butter. Like much of surf culture, this is slowly becoming more common in mainstream products; however, you really want 100% pure shea butter as opposed to a product with shea butter extract. This is for 2 reasons - firstly, it works better! Secondly, the consistency and general properties of shea butter are more versatile and useful for the surfer’s needs than a moisturising cream or body lotion with shea extract.
Shea butter usually comes in a tin that looks a little like shoe polish. It’s fairly solid, and has a distinct but not overpowering smell (Believe me, that smell is better than the stench that salty water leaves…). Apply shea butter by scooping some in your hands, and rubbing it together to melt it, then applying fairly sparingly to your skin. Most people will do this before a winter session in the waves to afford some protection against rubbing wetsuits – although it’s not particularly good for the wetsuit. After a shower or a surf is also a good time to do this as the skin is most receptive and so it is more effective. In summer, or when not wearing a wetsuit, applying before a surf is not a good idea, particularly for fair skin, as it is a butter, so will fry your skin. If you want sunburn, however…
Shea butter is also good for a few other things: it works as a good lip balm, and a good wax for making hair into dreadlocks, if you are so inclined. It is particularly good on wetsuit rash (rubbing caused by nasty neoprene on delicate skin of the neck, chest, and wherever else you care to imagine), and, I have been assured by a friend, if you melt it well, good on nappy rash! Generally, it is your multi purpose, all purpose, general purpose useful stuff.
In addition to shea butter, using a body brush each morning, or before showering is good for circulation to the skin surface and removing dry and dead skin. Don’t forget sun block when not wearing a wetsuit.
Finger and toe nails take quite a battering, both from stubbing on rocks and boards, cold salty water, and getting stuffed up with sand. Firstly, there is only one way to get the sand out. Soak them. Sticking an orange stick or scissors or whatever up your nails to gouge out the sand will scratch the nail and weaken it. It also will not get that sand out. Use warm water and a nailbrush to soak and scrub nails. Granted, this isn’t always easy after a morning surf when you are due at work, but then the best option is to keep nails short anyway. To keep the nails in good shape and the skin around them in one piece, use again the marvellous shea butter. Smother onto nails and cuticles generously at night, and leave it on. This should help your fingers and toes to recover from the harsh treatment they receive!
Generally, surfers will use the same shampoo as anyone else, although there is a definite propensity for natural and organic shampoos such as Jasens, Urtekram and Weleda. Hair will stink as a result of seawater if it is not washed daily, so quite a mild shampoo is recommended, followed by a good conditioner.
There is one particular ‘conditioning’ treatment that is frequently used: lemon juice, vinegar and tea tree oil. The lemon juice bleaches hair a little (yup, that’s where all these lovely blonde locks come from…), the vinegar smoothes it and makes it incredibly shiny, and the tea tree conditions and is generally good!
Mix this with (for shoulder length hair)
- Juice of 2 lemons
- 250ml vinegar (yeah – estimate it!)
- 10-20ml tea tree oil (This tends to be sold in about this quantity in little bottles anyway)
- Some people add an egg white to this, but I have never found it particularly effective, also it makes you smell like an omelette…
through the hair after washing and drying, and leave for about half an hour. To help the lemon juice bleach, sit in the sun, but don’t let your hair dry out else you’ll smell of vinegar for a week. Rinse out with cold water. This does some vague repair work on hair, and makes it look better for a few weeks
There are of course many other products/methods used by surfers worldwide: this is mostly UK based experience: somewhere with hotter water and more sun would probably require different levels of different products…