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Techies who surf are stoked about Silicon Beach club

Silicon Beach Surfers club offers techies a fertile pool for business networking

Even in the frigid Pacific waters the group of techie surfers couldn't go gadget free.

A group member from a Manhattan Beach start-up 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 Beach way.

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 wetsuits, they're collaborating on projects, beta testing each other'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 earlier 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 surf skills she picked up at Rockaway Beach in Queens.

"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 same way 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 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 a member is inclined to close their laptop and grab their board.

The founder of a failed start-up similar to the popular job outsourcing site TaskRabbit, Lambert has reinvented himself as a well-connected 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 start-up that raises money for charitable causes by offering the chance to win one-of-a-kind 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 he was 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 tech geek, 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 start-up Red9, plugged his laptop into the TV to show how the surfers performed using readings from the 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."

Twitter: @dhpierson

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