Hi Neil, can you tell us about your idea?
I have made an organic surf wax called ‘Chillax’ with a combination of essential oils and spices in a base of beeswax & coconut oil that we hope to prove wards off sharks. We’re currently running a crowd funding campaign aimed at raising $22k for the cost of testing for this proof; and we understand the SA Department of State Development are imminently to recommend the contribution of an extra $40k through the Innovation Voucher programme. The crowd funding campaign can be view here. https://joeycrowd.com/chillax. The combined sum will pay for two trips to sea, lasting 2 & 3 days each - the same rigorously scientific testing regime as the famous Shark Shield was subjected to.
The testing, under the supervision of Professor Charlie Huveneers (Senior Lecturer in Flinders University’s School of Biological Sciences & Lead Researcher for the Southern Shark Ecology Group) will take place among the White Pointers off South Australia’s Neptune Islands. Andrew Fox, son of the famous shark attack survivor Rodney Fox, will skipper the trip.
What inspired you to create Chillax?
There is an arrogance in the way we view ourselves when it comes to the ocean. When we go to space, climb a mountain or journey into the jungle we have our protective gear to keep us from harm. Despite the known & unknown perils of the ocean we still venture into it unprotected. I want people to start reflecting on this, and start taking action to protect themselves.
In June of last year I had my own wakeup call - a close-enough encounter with a bull shark off Long Reef on Sydney’s Northern beaches. I was furious with myself for allowing myself to be so vulnerable; for not having acted on the idea for a strategy I had long had. So when I moved to South Australia (the perceived home of the White Pointer) a week later, I got stuck in. It took about 8 different batches, but I got there. I think I’ve made a great organic surf wax - terrific grip in cool or warm water; and a strong scent & spice presence.
“There is an altruistic core to this project - I hope my theory of deterrence through scent is proven & becomes widespread”
What is the market for surf waxes out there like?
Most commercial surf waxes are using petrochemical by-products, adhesive agents, artificial colorants & perfumes - negative things for the environment. We hope that Chillax will present a viable individual strategy of protection while being affordable and accessible to surfers everywhere. There are 23 million surfers across the world and 20,000 in South Australia! Imagine the lives we could preserve in Australia and across the world. I am looking to preserve the lives of people who play in the ocean and I don’t want to stop at just surfing. I want to expand and protect divers, spear fishermen and swimmers too. This is the first part of a two part strategy which will move the product from a deterrent to a repellent.
We plan on doing so through the use of necromone. Necromone is the scent of rotting shark, which other sharks read as history of a bigger predator in the area, so they swim away. Sharks can actually tell the difference between the decomposing bodies of a shark and a whale. The problem right now with necromone is that it smells like rotting shark! We hope to get into a lab & develop a necromone that has no scent to human noses, and incorporate that into the wax, then that will effectively mark the end of shark attacks.
Where are you currently in this whole process?
Currently, I’ve put in just about as much elbow grease as I can, and I’ve come to realise that I’m close to being financially stricken. All my savings have gone into developing this product, to get to where we are with it now. If it wasn’t for my partner Sarah, it would have been impossible! Everything you see is down to my sheer passion and I really do need someone who can help me grow further.
If I can make this product available and affordable to anyone in the world, imagine how many benefits it would bring to all the places with significant numbers of shark attacks, both fatal & otherwise. Shark attacks bring tremendous suffering to not only the victims but to their family, friends, loved ones and the local community at large. One day soon Chillax could help prevent these tragedies. I believe not smelling like shark food is a good start.
“Sometimes reading books is just mind-numbingly dull - but to help create a product that could save lives, it’s quite exciting.”
Since it’s organic, is it safe to rub on human skin?
Personally I rub it all over my wet suit, hair, feet, ankles & of course hands before I surf. I took some Chillax to a biochemistry professor at Flinders - he examined at the ingredients, combinations & concentrations and told me that there wasn’t any reason to exhaustively safety check the product since there was nothing there not already in widespread contact with humans.
Sine Chillax ingredients are quite straightforward to make, are you afraid of others copying your idea?
I wanted to protect life with my product; I acknowledge that imitators will spring up. Either I commit to expensive years in court enforcing our patent, or to some extent accept that and console myself that more lives will be preserved. But we will always be the First, and the Best. That they won’t be able to steal.
You said there were other products out in the market that similarly exist?
Yes. There are surf waxes and there are shark repellents. Never have they met before. Our product may be just a simple idea, but it’s more often than not the simple ideas that work best.
Wouldn’t the sea water take the smell away?
No, it lasts for hours in its wax host. When you come out of the surf and put your nose down to the board, you can still smell it. This is the theory - if you can smell it and the shark’s smelling ability is (as claimed by the Shark Foundation) ten thousand times greater than yours, it follows that he can smell it from much far away and (as remains to be proven) be deterred from further investigation of you as prey by it.
Justin “Jay” Lambo is an experienced surfer from NSW’s notoriously sharky 9 Mile Beach. In February of this year, while running the Facebook “Shark Alarms East Coast” page, he managed to try some Chillax on his board (one of the hundreds I have given away). His day surfing passed uneventfully; but the next day, without his friend’s sample to reapply, he found himself being circled by a large great white. He claims that the residual presence of Chillax on the board explains the shark’s reluctance to approach (as witnessed by a chopper pilot overhead) & has endorsed the product without reservation.
“If I can make this product available and affordable to anyone in the world, then imagine the benefits it would bring to all the places with a significant number of shark attacks.”
Is there any criticism surrounding products like these in the market?
There is a growing perception of a competitor’s product, let’s call it X. It has manifested itself on the beaches of California, where the wider perception is that X draws sharks to the area before repelling them. When a shark gets close enough to get repelled, the product ‘bounces’ it into other surfers (unprotected by X) nearby.
If Chillax works in the manner I passionately believe it will, you will inadvertently be protecting the people around you. It will create a boundary of scent and taste which will basically pollute the sharks’ interest; and will not harm the ocean or other fish in any way. Indeed, apart from deterring his interest, the shark will be totally unharmed by this product.
Before you came on board with the product, you realised that this will require working on a business model in itself?
Yes. I had to learn about business to make this a global product; to save or preserve as many lives as I believe it could. Last year I did Venture Dorm at Flinders’ NVI, & I was one of the finalists at the conclusion of the course.
I believe I’ve established this as a truly unique product that has the potential to preserve a great number of lives every year. We’re going to confirm that and continue to develop & pivot every year. We’re going to get our customers & keep them. We’re going to look after them.
Doesn’t that deter you though? Since now you going to have to learn a lot of business knowledge?
Of course it did but I was really determined. Sometimes reading business books is just mind-numbingly dull - but to help create a product that can save lives, it’s quite exciting.
The journey is a lot of hard work. None of the crowd funding money raised with the help of Joey Crowd goes to me, it goes toward testing. I need to be patient. Once these proofs exist, the next challenge will be to commercialise and accelerate; to industrialise the production & distribution methods. That will open retail markets to us - & make the organic strategy of protection that is Chillax available to surfers of all ages in Australia, Brazil, South Africa, the US, New Caledonia & Reunion Island. Everywhere.
To support this fantastic initiative, please visit https://joeycrowd.com/chillax
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