When Los Olivos resident John Harmon came in from surfing a set at Jalama Beach last year, he saw a woman dousing her child’s feet in gasoline to scrape away bits of tar and knew he had to do something about it.
Even before an oil pipeline ruptured last month, spilling thousands of gallons of crude along Refugio State Beach, natural tar has been a challenge for Santa Barbara beachgoers for years. The shoreline is home to the world’s second-largest natural oil seep, trickling about 20 tons of oil into the water from surface cracks on the ocean floor every day.
It’s common to see surfers and families armed with bottles of gasoline and baby oil to help dissolve the black bits of tar from their feet before heading home for the day, Harmon said. But baby oil and gasoline aren’t eco-friendly, so Harmon set out to make a change.
The 22-year-old Uber driver spent five months experimenting in his mother’s kitchen, adding bits of fruit and food oils to a stew until he came up with a solution he calls Oil Slick.
“It was a learning process. I’d collect certain ingredients, then later find out they were toxic or not eco-friendly, so it was an education process. It was a lot of trial and error, lots of Google research and lots of trips to the beach,” Harmon said.
The solvent is nontoxic, biodegradable and eco-friendly, Harmon said.
The Santa Barbara City College business entrepreneurship student entered his concoction into the college’s New Venture Challenge, a business pitch program, taking home first place and $5,000.
The winnings were more than enough to cover the startup costs of his company, which sells bottles of Oil Slick in surf shops from Lompoc to Carpinteria.
As for the remainder? Harmon said he will use it to expand his business and, as demand increases, move the operation out of his mother’s kitchen and into an office.