New experiences from La Vida Laguna offer ways for colleagues to connect in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
By Ashley Ryan
Nearly two decades ago, Billy Fried was kayaking daily along the local coastline, and was quick to realize that no one was offering recreational experiences out on the water. With the approval of Mark Klosterman, then the marine safety chief for the city, he launched La Vida Laguna in 2003, yearning to find a way to make a living outdoors.
“Because no one else was doing it, it quickly caught on,” Fried says. “We soon offered surf lessons, paddleboard lessons and tours, and bike tours.”
In 2014, Doug Oyen joined the company, later becoming Fried’s business partner and co-owner. With a history in the fitness field, working as everything from a gym manager to a ski instructor, he was the perfect addition to La Vida Laguna and helped the company flourish.
A few years ago, the duo added some new experiences to the mix, as well as another offering this year. Aimed mostly at corporate groups, many of the latest offerings can be enjoyed safely despite pandemic restrictions. “From a business standpoint, it made sense because we were marketing to the same channels—just putting more options in the pipeline,” Oyen says. “From a lifestyle standpoint, … it’s fun to mix it up. And this is a lifestyle business, after all.”
Read on to learn more about La Vida Laguna and the types of experiences available for families, colleagues and more.
What are some of the latest offerings you’ve incorporated?
Billy Fried: Our retail side is our daily kayak, SUP, surf and electric bike tours. This is offered to individuals, friends and families visiting or living here. Our B2B side is corporate groups coming to the area for retreats and conferences. This represented our key customer base in the nonsummer months; it’s all but disappeared since COVID. For these groups, we expanded our offerings to custom team-building programs that would appeal to diverse groups—some of whom wanted no part of human-powered activities. So we developed programs centered around Laguna’s art heritage, California’s affinity for mindfulness and the healing arts, as well as unique team-building challenges—like our proprietary shipwrecked program, where we simulate being stranded on an island and needing to build shelter, find and harvest food, and develop a tribal identity. It’s a blast.
Who are these offerings aimed at?
Doug Oyen: Corporate executives, employees and their spouses. We are always mindful that our programs might be a first for people, so we design them to be easy, safe and inclusive.
Why did you choose to include artistic programs, like plein-air painting, glass blowing and floral design?
BF: When people come to Laguna [Beach] from around the world, they want to experience uniquely Laguna offerings.
How have guests been reacting to the vast array of mindfulness programs?
DO: Great question—and a real surprise for us. We thought offering yoga, meditation, sound baths, breathwork, gratitude practices, et cetera, might be too … left of center for starchy corporate types. But, truthfully, they are absolutely yearning for it. In these uncertain, anxious times, people are seeking any tools available to calm the nervous system and integrate mind and body healthfulness. Plus, we have so many talented teachers and healers to draw on, … people leave more open to transformation than when they arrived. And that’s our reward.
Which of your offerings do you think are best suited for families?
BF: No question, kayaking is our No. 1 family activity. We’ve taken four generations out together—from 3 years old to 85—to enjoy this magical coastline of Laguna. Two things are guaranteed: wonder and giggles.
Have you added anything new this year?
DO: During the pandemic, we pivoted to a new corporate offering that we call Active Outdoor Meetings. When restrictions on gatherings were loosened, and colleagues were seeking in-person connections, we sought to curate safe meetings by setting up small, … distanced, beautiful outdoor spaces that are shaded. And then, before or after, we can provide an active, healthy experience like kayaking, biking or hiking. We think it’s the perfect program for the times, and hope it’s a trend that catches on globally. The outdoors is our greatest teacher and meeting place.
Why do you think these updated offerings are important in light of the pandemic?
BF: People are craving contact. Zoom is a wonderful tool for online meetings, but humans are social animals, and we know the outdoors … [is] the answer—not only for safety, but for the quality of the environment, to engage in deep, focused conversations without distractions.
What benefits can groups get out of experiencing these activities together?
DO: Solidarity, trust, camaraderie, leadership, unity, gratitude and fun. We know it’s a cliche, but teamwork definitely makes the dream work. And getting off campus and having unique experiences and challenges together is an incredibly unifying process. We frequently break out into a Gratitude Circle following an activity, and people are amazingly forthright in sharing meaningful feelings that rarely get explored in a corporate setting.