Billy Fried is CEO & Founder of Kijubi.com, an Online Activities Agency that allows users to find thousands of fun things to do across the nation as well as “Chief Paddling Officer” of La Vida Laguna, Laguna’s Eco Activities company, offering group activities, corporate team building and events.
Billy, we’ve known one another for quite a while now and it seems like every time I run into you you’re launching another company, venture or event. You’ve got to be one of the busiest and most well-rounded people I’ve ever met. How in the world do you manage to get it all done? Do you ever sleep?
I love to sleep. I love to play. And I enjoy working too. Balance is the key, and doing what you love. Then it’s not work. I started La Vida Laguna 10 years ago with Alora Ashlie, and she’s still with me. Most of my guides and instructors are too. Our President Mark Dick was a customer who took a kayak tour with his daughters and was hooked. He’s a former college football player, rock climber, cyclist, gym owner and personal trainer. I co-founded Kijubi with Kilay Reinfeld, the most tech savvy dude I know who gets more done in a morning than most do in a week. We just licensed the domain name Anaheim.com and are going to build a comprehensive geo-domain for booking lodging, entertainment, dining, and activities. It’s very exciting. We all love to work hard, but play hard too. I believe in hiring people smarter than me, give them a long rope, and watch them flourish. My Dad taught me that.
Smart man–my Dad says that too! Billy, In addition to your business ventures, you’re really involved creating community: local politics, ecstatic dance, the drum circle–some pretty fascinating stuff. Tell us more about how you came to be involved in these fairly (and please excuse the pun) off-beat activities.
I beg your pardon, Kate–these are decidedly on-beat! (Well, the monthly full moon drum circle has grown so large we are frequently off-beat.) I started it as a free community happening 10 years ago because I had experienced the communal joy of group drumming, and felt Laguna had the perfect setting to create something magical. We stage them around a bonfire at Aliso Beach, so we get all the elements: moon, waves, sand, fire, and hypnotic beats. We now draw hundreds of revelers from all over Orange County, including hoopers, fire and belly dancers. It has become an exalted experience full of pageantry, and unifies so many diverse people. Drummers come in all shapes and sizes–from grandmas to toddlers. Everyone is drawn to the magnetic pulse of rhythm. I think it’s because its the first thing we are born to–the heartbeat. So drumming is primal, tribal, and a quasi religious experience that is indigenous to many cultures. It’s about as close to a cathedral as I get.
I co-created Dance Journey as a guided movement mediation. It’s fairly new here, but well established in New York, LA and San Francisco. It’s basically two hours of free dancing without going to a bar. It’s for people who love to dance. We dim the lights and play a curated set of world music allowing people to express themselves through music and how it comes through them. It’s a wonderful cardio lift that can incorporate stretching and meditation. No partners are necessary and there’s no judgment. However, dancers feed off the energy of others, so the more the merrier. We dance the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of the each month at Bridge Hall at the Neighborhood Congregational Church. It’s from 7-9 and just $10. We think it’s the new yoga!
Overall, I do these as a creative outlet for myself, and to build community in town with like minded folks. .
That sounds wonderful–and I really want to experience both activities now that I’m back in town. I admire your civic conscience, particularly your involvement in Transition Laguna. For those unfamiliar with the Transition Movement, it’s a vibrant, grassroots movement that seeks to build community resilience in the face of such challenges as peak oil, climate change and economic crises. It engages people in strengthening their communities against the effects of these challenges, resulting in a life that is more abundant, fulfilling, equitable and socially connected. Billy, how did you come to be involved in Transition Laguna? Any upcoming projects that you’re particularly excited about?
I attended my first Transition Laguna event several years ago, when they screened a movie about the oil embargo in Cuba, and the strangely positive effect it had in that country. Since goods could no longer be imported, the community had to grow their own food and learn new skills. They planted organic urban gardens in degraded areas. Suddenly the community began eating better, feeling better, and having products they could sell or barter. They expoerienced a renewed sense of pride. But the biggest change was the sense of community it engendered. Neighbors got to know each other and real community emerged through the local cultivation of food. The parallels to Laguna–where virtually all of our food and 100% of our water is imported–was obvious. So I got involved and joined the Board. The worldwide Transition movement is founded on preparing communities for self reliance when or if there’s any interruption to our supply grids, be it in food, water or energy production. We’re doing tons of great community work, including the planting of edible gardens throughout town. And the best part is we are not fear-based. We are a fun loving group of activists who have grown close–exactly the same unintended benefits that occurred in Cuba.
In April we produced the 1st Earth Day celebration in downtown Laguna. We were the first non-city entity to receive permission to close a downtown street. In September we have two big events scheduled. On Saturday, September 22 (which happens to be the fall solstice), we are inviting the whole city to join us for the 1st annual “Get Back / Give Back” festival in Heisler Park. Not only are we celebrating the end of summer and the return of our town to locals, we are also encouraging the community to “give back” by sharing something–food, drink, a skill or talent. There will be no commerce or money changing hands–a total gift exchange that will showcase the talents and generosity of our community. There will be live music and a multi-modal street parade for those using anything but cars. We’ll encourage bikers, joggers, skate boarders, roller bladers, stilts, costumes, whatever. We want to highlight what a great town Laguna is for alternative transportation.
Then a week later (Saturday, September 29) our Food Group is staging our annual Harvest Festival at the Neighborhood Congregational Church. It’s a social event and fundraiser that includes a potluck of local harvest. A great time to connect and meet old friends and new.
Both events sound amazing–how exciting for our town! What other Laguna Beach organizations are you involved with? Why do you feel so passionately about the community of Laguna?
I attend Complete Streets meetings because I’m working to make Laguna a more bike friendly town. I would like to see an entire bike infrastructure. Imagine a trail all the way from town to Irvine via the old Laguna Canyon Rd. Bike trails and sharrows throughout town. Artistic bike racks everywhere. People would wave to each other, Find parking far easier, and feel a lot better. And then I want to shut that awful parking lot known as Forest Ave down for good, and replace it with a stunning pesdestrian plaza, featuring planters, benches, outdoor cafes, ambient lighting, performers–a beacon for the community.
I feel passionately about Laguna because of its beauty and heritage as a diverse, tolerant community. It pains me to see some of that heritage lost as Laguna has become more affluent, and systemically fear-based. Consequently, a lot of my energy is devoted to building a conscious community that is rooted in compassion, tolerance, personal freedom and responsibility.
I love the idea of the pedestrian plaza–I’ve heard a lot about that lately. Laguna is indeed an amazing community as I value all you do to further conscious compassionate community. So, you’re originally from the East Coast, right? I know you went to college in Massachusetts. What brought you all the way out to sunny Southern California, and particularly Laguna Beach?
I grew up in Baltimore and went north to college. It was cold. I introduced a woman to my brother and they married. They moved to her hometown of Hawaii. I figured they owed me, so when I graduated I moved there to. That was the beginning of my love affair with warm weather, though I took several left turns to live in Europe, Asia and New York before settling on the West Coast.
And it’s pretty difficult to leave! What is it that you most love about Laguna Beach?
Without a doubt the physical beauty. Time and again Laguna awes me. There are so many micro-climates and pockets of discovery. And being in love here is extra fine. You can find extraordinary happiness in the simplest pleasures of walking the beach, hiking a trail, or just strolling a charming neighborhood. I’ve remarked to many people that this is one of the few towns I’ve lived in where strangers routinely comment, “Wasn’t today amazing?”
Well said. Describe for us a favorite day spent in our beautiful village.
A favorite day is being in the slow lane with my baby, sleeping in, newspapers piled on the bed, making our way to a trail, yoga class, swimming, paddling. Lunch somewhere outside, maybe on our deck, having a giant salad of local produce we bought at the Farmer’s Market. Then a walk on the beach, followed by a Thai massage. I love cooking and sharing with friends, and mostly great conversation. I enjoy riding my bike or scooter around town, smelling jasmine and eucalyptus the whole way. I love our open space, and especially our blue belt. I never feel so alive as when I’m swimming in the Pacific. Kayaking at sunset is sublime too.
Billy, that sounds like a perfect day in Paradise! I look forward to catching up with you and Nicole again soon–perhaps an afternoon kayak followed by a little fireside dining and drumming? Thanks so much for sitting down with me, and thanks so much for all you do for Laguna!