Meet the Silicon Beach Surfers

silicon beach surfers

In Los Angeles, these techies are socializing, networking, and having fun by riding the waves.

From Fortune.com, by Scott Gummer, March 6, 2016: 

It is not unusual for people who work in tech and startups to be up before the sun, though on this crisp winter morning it is not because these dedicated souls never went to sleep. This hardy squad of a half-dozen men and women, most in their twenties and thirties, has gathered on the edge of Los Angeles’ Venice Beach by dawn’s early light to surf—not the web, but waves. Connected by shared passions both professional and personal, members of the Silicon Beach Surfers disconnect from their devices, tether only to their surfboards, and paddle out.

Part professional association, social club, and networking group, Silicon Beach Surfers was founded four years ago by Rob Lambert as an offshoot of SiliconBeachLA.com, the industry clearinghouse that Lambert runs, which serves as an online hub for the fast-growing L.A. tech and startup scene. Lambert enlisted a few surfing friends, they brought friends, and so on. Today Silicon Beach Surfers has 513 members.

They meet at a handful of surf spots between Manhattan Beach and Malibu, though it’s not as if a flotilla of techies ever commandeers a beach. Most members are too busy. “I live in Westwood but work in Burbank,” says Mike Takahashi, senior manager of digital at Disney  DIS -0.89% , “so I don’t get out and surf as much as I want.” Still, Takahashi stays plugged in via the Surfers’ private Facebook group, which not only updates members about which breaks the swells are hitting best but also announces upcoming events like mixers, product demos, and photo and video shoots.

The nature of networking is to advance oneself, but Silicon Beach Surfers say they are more collegial. “When we do talk about work, it is usually about shared experiences,” says Kelsey Doorey, founder and CEO of Vow to Be Chic, an e-commerce site for designer bridesmaid dress rentals. “I might say, ‘Here’s a challenge that I’m working through. Have you faced this?’ ”

Aaron Godfred not only found his job through the group but has, in turn, used it to hire others. Godfred got interested in the startup space while working in development at Morgan Freeman’s production company, Revelations Entertainment. Through a startup newsletter, he learned about the group. After he began surfing with Lambert, Godfred heard about a Silicon Beach LA–hosted job fair, where he connected with Omaze. The company, which raises money for charity by raffling off unique experiences with celebrities, soon hired Godfred as director of video production. “We were going out to the desert to blow stuff up with Arnold Schwarzenegger, and I found a drone operator for the shoot by posting on the surf group Facebook page.”

The nature of networking is to advance oneself, but Silicon Beach Surfers say they are more collegial. “When we do talk about work, it is usually about shared experiences,” says Kelsey Doorey, founder and CEO of Vow to Be Chic, an e-commerce site for designer bridesmaid dress rentals. “I might say, ‘Here’s a challenge that I’m working through. Have you faced this?’ ”

Aaron Godfred not only found his job through the group but has, in turn, used it to hire others. Godfred got interested in the startup space while working in development at Morgan Freeman’s production company, Revelations Entertainment. Through a startup newsletter, he learned about the group. After he began surfing with Lambert, Godfred heard about a Silicon Beach LA–hosted job fair, where he connected with Omaze. The company, which raises money for charity by raffling off unique experiences with celebrities, soon hired Godfred as director of video production. “We were going out to the desert to blow stuff up with Arnold Schwarzenegger, and I found a drone operator for the shoot by posting on the surf group Facebook page.”

Ali MirRasekhian, sales director at SurfAir, readies to paddle out.Photograph by Bryce Duffy for Fortune Magazine

Lambert fosters member interaction and enjoys making introductions, though he has one hard-and-fast rule: “If you ‘pitch up’ in the group and it gets back to me, you are out.” “Pitching up” refers to when people who are lower on the totem pole hit up members who are higher up. “A lot of members get pursued and pitched all day every day, so they come here to get away from that,” says Lambert. “The idea is to build a rapport through surfing, and then those conversations can happen organically.”

All prospective members serve a 30-day trial period, which, Lambert notes, “is not for the person to see if they like the group, but rather for the group to see how she or he fits.” Lambert receives about 10 to 15 applications a week. The form includes questions that are intended to weed out wannabe surfers: What is the length, brand, and model of your go-to surfboard? Where is your go-to surf break? The acceptance rate is about 30%. Lambert has ousted only three people: two for pitching up, and one for being the kind of aggressive “lone wolf” surfer who hogs all the waves.

Etiquette is a big part of surfing, just as it is in golf. Golf was forever the ultimate business networking activity. It is losing favor, most notably among millennials, because golf takes too long. That is especially true as more people will hit a shot, send a text, hit a shot, check email, hit a shot, then pick up the ball without finishing the hole so they can take a call.

Balance is also a big part of surfing, and being forced to unplug completely—even if just long enough to ride one wave—fairly guarantees a fresh perspective, which is when the big ideas hit.

Scott Gummer is the author of the novel Parents Behaving Badly and a novice surfer.

A version of this article appears in the March 15, 2016 issue of Fortune.