Daybreaker explores the sunnier side of nightlife aboard a party boat in Marina del Rey harbor

By Christina Campodonico

Weekday morning revelers cool down to live music before heading off to work Photos by Will Bliss Photography

Weekday morning revelers cool down to live music before heading off to work
Photos by Will Bliss Photography

On a Hornblower yacht in Marina del Rey bottles are strewn about the floor and line window sills along steamed-up glass. But these aren’t the remnants of a late night out, more the discards from an early morning in — in the throes of dancing, downing healthy drinks, doing yoga and literally celebrating life at the break of dawn.

At fever pitch this entire boat wasa hopping dance floor. Partygoers in their 20s to late 30s —some costumed in unicorn onesies, furry jackets and tiger jumpsuits — grooved, snaked, slithered and jammed to a mix of techno and electronic dance music. But they were fueled by a different type of intoxication.

There’s not a drop of alcohol in these containers, maybe drops of fruit-infused water or sips of some “all-natural,” “antioxidant-rich” elixir.

This is the aftermath of Daybreaker, a “morning movement” that throws deejayed dance parties in the early a.m. and serves up beverages like Califia bottled cold brew instead of craft cocktails.

But like most nights out, the journey began in the dark. I set my alarm for 4:30 a.m., dragged my sleepy-eyed, night owl self into my car and drove through desolate streets to Fisherman’s Village. Arriving at 6, I missed the 5:30 a.m. yoga warm up. No Namaste for me, though I’m told it was “a very awakening, alive experience.”

At the check-in table, I receive a stamp on the inside of my wrist. Designed to look like a minimalist sunset over water, the symbol looks like a secret brand that I could easily hide from my employer beneath my Fitbit or flash to another Daybreaker to show that I’m with the “in” crowd.

I join the cue of partygoers boarding the Hornblower, and like that I’m into one of the most unusual and invigorating dance parties this side of the 405.

But I bet you’re still wondering — why would any sane person wake up before the break of dawn to go to a dance party? Isn’t the whole point of getting your groove on at night is so that you can
flail around like an idiot in a poorly lit club, booze up or make out with a stranger and not be seen, or at least not be seen very well?

Yet Daybreaker intentionally turns that kind of party-going philosophy on its head.

“Daybreaker is a flip on nightlife,” says LA Daybreaker co-producer Andre Herd. “So you’re typical nightlife experience, you go out. You have a couple of drinks. You maybe go dancing, maybe meet somebody, and then you go to bed and you wake up feeling bad. Daybreaker is the exact opposite. You wake up early. You grab a cup of coffee. You go to this energetic dance party where 500 people are smiling and you’re very conscious of who you’re talking to, who’s around you, the kind of music that you’re listening to and everything.”

While many late-night dance club parties run on a cocktail of alcohol and lowered inhibitions, Daybreaker is a substance-free zone, meaning that dancing takes priority — not drinking, taking drugs or hooking up.

“Since no one is drinking or taking drugs, it’s just a happy environment,” says 20-year-old USC student Amirah Dales.

That doesn’t mean, however, that things don’t get a little out of hand. One latecomer sporting a sailor cap, a tiger scarf and no shirt pulled up to the yacht on a little inflatable motorboat and tried to board.  Despite the bold attempt, the organizers wouldn’t let him on as it would mean shutting down the party.

So what spurs hundreds of people to figuratively and literally chase the sun? Perhaps the pursuit is its own type of addiction — a high that can only be fed by the exhilaration of dancing itself.

“I see this as a time for pure, unadulterated, without judgment dance party fun,” says 25-year-old photojournalist and Daybreaker regular Louis Fisher, who doesn’t hold back, performing yogic flips and contortions while hanging from a bar on the boat’s backend. Fisher’s “inspired by the idea that we can have a good time without any other influence but music and love,” he says. “By the time the dance party’s over it feels like we’re a million bucks.”

Some partygoers are so comfortable busting a move that they bring their kids. I spot a toddler with a little Afro grooving to his own breakdance beat and a baby bouncing in a carrier on her mother’s chest. This is 11-month-old Zoe and her 39-year-old mom Jessica Shinners. Having danced at a Daybreaker party in NYC when Zoe was in utero, Shinners feels like this a natural play date for her and her daughter.

“I wouldn’t bring her to any dance party,” says Shinners, her daughter wearing purple noise-cancelling headphones to protect her ears from the blaring noise. “Because this is G-rated as a social and intentional event, she would want to be here. The people surrounding her are enjoying her in a respectful and playful way.”

I see what the mom means. Revelers joyously circle round the shimmying Shinners and her baby on the back deck, but keep a safe distance, creating an almost protective cushion of space around the mother and child.

Meanwhile, dance circles are closer and more entangled on the inside of the boat. Here fratty meets fruity granola, as macho millennial bros in tank tops tread over discarded KIND bar wrappers and cross paths with Silicon Beach techies and new wave hipsters sporting yoga pants and body paint. A rubber ducky inner tube bounces between bodies, while a woman in a red dress and sailor hat swings her body to and fro to a mix that sounds almost like a meditation tape on steroids. Somewhere between Zen and frenetic, Greek life and yoga culture not only miraculously coexist, but commingle.

Things do get a little cultish when the music stops and the event organizers instruct us to give each other a big group hug, let out a big shout and sit on the floor crossed-legged to listen to a local artist sing some Justin Timberlake-y R&B and then recite a yogic intention from square-shaped cards passed around to us. By this time, the sky has turned from black to blue to overcast gray, the sun barely peeking through the clouds.

Upon departure, we’re told to go out and “spread the love to your community.” A touch hippy dippy for my taste, but judging by the dozens of partygoers who gather on the yacht’s rooftop to take a giant group photo at the end of the party, I’m guessing that most of my fellow millennials dug it and don’t mind drinking the Daybreaker cold brew, so to speak.

But why else would you dress up and dance like a complete fool at 6 a.m.?

Even without the booze, there’s something quite intoxicating about the whole experience—rising early before most humans are awake, somnambulating to the party, then breaking out your best dance moves in front of a ton of complete strangers with a responsibly reckless abandon.

Maybe this is exactly what youth party culture really needs — a little bit of light.

Daybreaker Los Angeles returns to Marina del Rey harbor on Thursday, July 7, with Daybreaker Dusk, a twilight version of the event. Tickets are $35 to $45. For more information, visit