Geeks who surf are stoked by club

The in­vi­ta­tion-only Sil­i­con Beach Surfers lets techies net­work and catch some waves.

Los Angeles Times - - MARKETPLACE - By David Pier­son david.pier­son@la­times.com Twit­ter: @dh­pier­son

Even in the frigid Pacific wa­ters the group of techie surfers couldn’t go gad­get­free.

group mem­ber from a Man­hat­tan Beach startup ar­rived with some­thing for their surf­boards: prototype sen­sors that mea­sure the speed, power and dif­fi­culty of waves.

A few hours later, the surfers were rel­ish­ing the re­sults, glued to the streams of data pour­ing onto a screen in­side a cozy beach house on the famed El Porto shore­line.

This is surf­ing, the Sil­i­con Beach­way.

The in­vi­ta­tion-only Sil­i­con Beach Surfers club has proved to be a fer­tile pool for busi­ness net­work­ing — at­tract­ing more than 430 mem­bers of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s bur­geon­ing tech scene.

When they aren’t pad­dling out in wet suits, they’re col­lab­o­rat­ing on projects, beta test­ing one another’s work, and shar­ing tips on hot new jobs.

When Mor­ris May joined three years ago, it wasn’t to pad his re­sume. The vet­eran spe­cial ef­fects ex­pert was seek­ing like-minded peo­ple to ride the waves with be­tween Hol­ly­wood gigs.

It was last fall at a club bar­be­cue where May, who founded Spec­u­lar The­ory, a vir­tual re­al­ity pro­duc­tion com­pany in Venice, spoke to Jessica Kan­tor of the Sun­dance In­sti­tute, a fel­low mem­ber.

She talked up Sun­dance’s in­ter­est in new sto­ry­telling forms — vir­tual re­al­ity in par­tic­u­lar. Kan­tor sent May to Sun­dance’s L.A. out­post.

The re­sult? May co-di­rected a ground­break­ing short film, “Per­spec­tive; Chap­ter I: The Party.” It re­counts a col­lege rape through the eyes of the vic­tim and the at­tacker. Shown at the Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val this year, it gar­nered a bar­rage of me­dia at­ten­tion. “It was a pretty big break,” said May, 43.

“I’ve been to other tech meet-ups, but they’re just so awk­ward be­cause there’s noth­ing to bond over,” Kan­tor said. “It’s like when you go on a first date at a bar and just stare at each other rather than do­ing some­thing like bowl­ing to break the ice.”

Kan­tor joined the club two years ago af­ter leav­ing a job in New York with Livestream, an on­line video plat­form, for Sun­dance.

She wanted to stay con­nected to the tech com­mu­nity and also im­prove on the surf­ing skills she picked up at Rock­away Beach in Queens, N.Y.

“We mostly talk about surf­ing,” said May, a Michi­gan na­tive who was in­tro­duced to the sport in Florida. “The net­work­ing just nat­u­rally oc­curs.”

Like surf­ing, there’s eti­quette at the get-to­geth­ers. Ag­gres­sive net­work­ing is frowned upon, the same­way crash­ing some­one’s wave is shunned.

Three mem­bers have been booted from the club since it launched; two for poor surf­ing man­ners, one for ad­mit­tedly join­ing just to meet women, said Robert Lam­bert, who founded Sil­i­con Beach Surfers in 2012.

The Tor­rance na­tive, who also runs a broader tech com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tion called Sil­i­con Beach L.A. and hosts a jobs fair, ac­cepts less than a third of the 60 ap­pli­ca­tions he gets a month.

“We’re look­ing for peo­ple who are ad­vanced in their ca­reers and know what they’re do­ing,” said Lam­bert, 29, who’s been surf­ing the im­pos­ing El Porto beach reg­u­larly since high school. “We don’t want peo­ple who are pitch­ing all the time.”

Prospec­tive mem­bers must also pro­vide a pho­to­graph of them­selves surf­ing to prove they have some pro­fi­ciency in the sport.

“We’ve had ap­pli­cants tick ev­ery box, but they end up be­ing a trav­esty in the wa­ter,” said Lam­bert, who sends daily re­ports on surf con­di­tions through the group’s Face­book page — just in case mem­bers are in­clined to close their lap­tops and grab their boards.

The founder of a failed startup sim­i­lar to the pop­u­lar job out­sourc­ing site Task Rab­bit, Lam­bert has rein­vented him­self as a well­con­nected go-be­tween in L.A.’s young tech scene.

He steered video pro­ducer Aaron God­fred, one of the surf group’s ear­li­est mem­bers, to a job open­ing at Omaze, a Cul­ver City startup that raises money for char­i­ta­ble causes by of­fer­ing the chance to win one-of-akind ex­pe­ri­ences with celebri­ties, such as rid­ing in a tank and work­ing out with Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger.

“I prob­a­bly wouldn’t be work­ing at Omaze if it wasn’t for that in­tro­duc­tion from Rob,” said God­fred, who of­ten mines the club for help such as a re­cent call for a drone op­er­a­tor to as­sist in a film shoot.

Mem­ber Alex Wang, the founder of Cara­pace, a cus­tom wet­suit start-up, said Lam­bert con­nected him to a con­sul­tant at Red Bull. The en­ergy drink brand now wants to in­clude Wang’s com­pany in a pro­mo­tional video with big-wave surfers.

The 28-year-old from Ran­cho Pa­los Verdes, who has been surf­ing on and off since hewas a teenager, said the con­nec­tions made through the surf group are pre­cisely what his boot­strap-funded com­pany needs. He’s not a nat­u­ral net­worker and hates at­tend­ing busi­ness mix­ers. Be­ing among like-minded peo­ple puts him at ease.

“If you think about the stereo­typ­i­cal surfer, you don’t think of techgeek, soft­ware guys,” Wang said. “I love see­ing that dif­fer­ent mix of po­lar op­po­sites and ideals here.”

On a re­cent Satur­day, dozens of Sil­i­con Beach Surfers min­gled out­side Lam­bert’s head­quar­ters, a ground floor beach­front prop­erty over­look­ing El Porto.

A tele­vi­sion played the 1966 surf documentary clas­sic “The End­less Sum­mer” on an in­fi­nite loop. Surfers fresh from the ocean dried them­selves off. Solo Scott, a vet­eran surfer and skate­boarder from the Dog­town and Z-Boys era, showed up with a case of beer.

Ben Her­rick, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Man­hat­tan Beach startup Red9, plugged his lap­top into the TV to show how the surfers per­formed us­ing read­ings fromthe sen­sors strapped to their boards.

The surfers were im­pressed by the maps and charts, urg­ing Her­rick to seek more in the com­pany’s Kick­starter cam­paign.

“The surf group gen­uinely wants us to suc­ceed. It’s mo­ti­vat­ing,” Her­rick said. “Launch­ing a busi­ness is hard. Most mem­bers can re­late and want to help. The more peo­ple in your cor­ner, the bet­ter.”

Pho­to­graphs by Ir­fan Khan

ROBERT LAM­BERT is the founder of Sil­i­con Beach Surfers, which has at­tracted more than 430 mem­bers of the South­land’s bur­geon­ing tech scene. He ac­cepts less than a third of the 60 ap­pli­ca­tions he gets amonth.

RED9 tech­ni­cian Cody Lewis, left, and CEO Ben Her­rick place sen­sors on surf­boards to record surfers’ moves while Robert Lam­bert watches.

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