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Two La Jolla natives break into the sunscreen business

BY LINDA VAN ZANDT

La Jolla natives, brothers Doug and Drew Littlemore would like to save your skin, one tube at a time. Owners of Headhunter Surf Screen, they first began selling hats imported from Mexico in 1989. Back then, the idea of entering into the highly competitive world of sunscreen was as remote as a tropical south sea island. “The hats had a wider brim so they quickly established a following with the lifeguards,” says Drew. “As more people became educated about the danger of sun exposure, we began expanding our product line to include hats with an SPF (sun protection factor) built into the fabric. We had a nice little mail order business going with referrals coming mostly from dermatologists.”

The sunscreen idea surfaced seven years later. “We credit the late Court Overin and Rick Irons for suggesting the foray into sunscreen,” explains Doug. “We had just begun advertising our hats in Surfer Magazine, and both men were our ad reps. Marketing meetings evolved into discussions of the sunscreen market itself.” Convinced a hole in the market existed in terms of a quality product developed and branded specifically for surfers by surfers, the brothers decided to take the leap. “Protection from the sun is our primary focus, but migration of sunscreen into the eye is a huge complaint from surfers as well. We have strived to create a quality product that stays put on the face,” says Doug.

Their timing was perfect. Suddenly that remote south sea island was accessible. While they began the two-year process of testing and re-testing the recipe, the resort-style surf market exploded with the likes of Tavarua and Namotu in Fiji, G-Land in Indonesia, and various other adventure-style travel in tropical locales worldwide.

“We connected with the surf resorts to create brand awareness of our product within the surf community, and it worked,” says Drew. It’s a marketing resource that still works. The brothers supply many surf resorts with gratuitous supplies of the sunscreen, and one can also find the ‘pump tubs’ of Headhunter at surf camps, the La Jolla Cancer Center Luau, Surfrider Foundation beach events as well as most professional surfing contests.

They are careful not to make over- zealous SPF claims that have recently landed some of the bigger companies in lawsuits. “SPF 50 does not exist,” says Drew, “it is misleading to the consumer and gives them a false sense of security.” Adds Doug, “While our product does seem to have sustainability in the water, you still need to be diligent and re-apply, or certainly check your face every 90 minutes, especially in equatorial zones.”

Parents Alan and Barbara migrated to La Jolla in the early 1960s. “Our dad didn’t surf, but he was a very devoted waterman. Diving was his passion, and La Jolla had good diving,” says Doug. Raised rather unconventionally, the brothers spent their elementary years divided between La Jolla and Puerto Vallarta. “We had a pretty long leash,” Drew reflects. “In La Jolla we had significant freedom as long as we stayed west of the Boulevard. In Mexico, we wandered a lot.” Growing up with parents deeply committed to the ocean, it was natural that both would gravitate to surfing. “One of my best memories as a kid is catching my first green-faced wave at La Jolla Shores. I think I was about 6,” Drew reminisces. Doug also sites the beach as the prime focus of his youth, joyfully collecting discarded surf wax like another child might collect baseball cards.

The boys recollect that time with mixed emotion. However, they do recognize a huge asset that developed from their upbringing. Both readily agree, “We grew up really relying on each other, and found through some of life’s trials that it was much easier to cope as a team.” This mutual respect is evident in the way they run their business as well as their personal lives, living as neighbors in an area referred to as “the Littlemore Compound.”

With solid reputations in the line-up, both manage to log in water time on a regular basis. Doug said the huge, winter swells that break at Dunemere Drive give him the most adrenaline. Drew is adamant that it’s the anticipation of riding those same swells at Blacks that sustain him.

When asked which brother surfs better, in true Littlemore solidarity both chime in, “Drew goes better left. Doug goes better right.”

You can find Headhunter Sunscreen at most surfshops, or refer to their Web site at www.headhuntersurf.com.

Contact Linda Van Zandt with ocean- or surf-related queries at lindav@san.rr.com.