"Daily encounters with dolphins make work a dream," says Izzy Tihanyi, who has been known to come to HQ in a bathing suit and flip-flops. She and her fraternal twin, Coco, ditched desk jobs to found Surf Diva in their hometown of La Jolla, Calif., in May 1996. Since then, thousands of women -- including actress Minnie Driver -- have learned to duck-dive and turtle-turn at one of the school's three locations (Scripps Beach, La Jolla Shores, and Mission Beach in San Diego). The company also has a sister surf school, Las Olas, in Puerto Vallarta, a brand of boards and apparel, and a Surf Diva store.
The Tihanyis (right, at La Jolla Shores) take only three days off a year (not including inclement weather days and the annual company retreat to Baja), but indulging their passion for the sport hardly seems like work. "We're half a block away from the beach," says Izzy. "I check in on classes five times a day, and I do a radio surf report. A big problem is keeping the office chairs dry. We just put towels on them, but maybe we should buy vinyl chairs or something."
Despite growing up on Islamorada in the Florida Keys, Michael Reckwerdt can never get enough of the sugarlike sand, sapphire Gulf waters, an average temperature of 76 degrees, and...work. "My business is everybody else's vacation," he says, "and 10 hours of vacation a day is not a bad way to make a living." Five years ago, Reckwerdt bought Robbie's Marina & Rent-A-Boat from his parents, though he had taken over operations years earlier. Today, the company owns a fleet of 20 boats for fishing and ecotours and maintains a tarpon feeding preserve where the gentle fish -- which can grow to six feet and 150 pounds -- have visitors eating out of their hands. For Michael's wife, Annie (center, with Michael), leaving a high-powered corporate job on the East Coast "made things I never dreamed of possible." The couple is able to enjoy open-air offices, beach barbecues every full moon with their 20 employees, and the chance to work with their four children in tow, developing a love for the water early, just like Dad.
Tom Scott was ready for a change of scenery but had one requirement: He wanted to surf before work every morning, as he had since 1997. So the co-founder of beverage company Nantucket Nectars (sold in 2002 to Cadbury Schweppes) left the Massachusetts island for another -- Long Island, N.Y. -- and co-founded PlumTV with Frazer Dougherty. Plum operates news stations in Easthampton, Nantucket, and Martha's Vineyard. With oceanside headquarters near Flying Point beach, the media company is spoiled when it comes to recruiting. More than half of its 40 staffers, says Scott, fled television stations in the concrete jungles for Plum, where surfboards dot the office landscape, clambakes are de rigueur, and interns -- chosen from a pool of 400 applicants -- face such grueling tasks as waking at dawn to film the sunrise. One office perk also has to do with the bottom line. "On a sunny day," Scott (left, being filmed by David Kuhn on Main Beach) says, "making the beach the set keeps production costs low."
Some people fight traffic to get to work. The 18 employees of Seattle company Altrec can choose to brave currents on kayaks, motor boats, even Ski-Doos to get to the office -- a glass structure 15 feet from the Pacific inlet of Lake Washington. "People," says CEO Mike Morford (above), "are happy to come to work." It's no surprise that the online retailer of outdoor sports gear and apparel, which was founded in 1998, practices the life it preaches, blurring the line between indoors and outdoors. Manufacturers present new products not in a conference room but on the office dock, and lunch break activities include windsurfing and quick dips in the lake. Even frigid temperatures can't curtail a love of the water -- last winter, a few staffers jumped in for a "polar bear swim." "Who says you can't have fun and grow a successful business in the process?" Morford asks.