From inventing aviation helmets to flying in formation squads, Rolling Hills resident Guido Rietdyk is nearing the end of what he calls an extremely intense, but rewarding year.
His company, Lift Aviation, competed with 100 other companies to develop for the U.S. Air Force a next-generation, lightweight helmet for crew of fixed-wing aircraft. Such helmets had not been redesigned since the 1980s. Rietdyk's design is one of two finalists for the single-source military contract.
“The amount of research and development that we need to do on this product is really exciting," said Rietdyk. "My team has traveled all over the country meeting with pilots, scientists and members of the Air Force. From a work standpoint, it’s the absolute most fun thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
Rietdyk's company is also working with Rockwell Collins, one of the biggest defense contractors in the world, developing a helmet from the ground up which incorporates their electronics.
The path to Palos Verdes
Rietdyk grew up in the Netherlands, but was always impressed with opportunities offered in the United States. He moved here when he was a senior in college and studied International Business at San Jose State University.
Although he loved the year he spent in California, he had to go back to Holland to complete military service. When that was over, Rietdyk returned to California, earned a graduate degree in marketing from the University of Southern California, and never moved back.
While Rietdyk was attending USC, he roomed with Alex Ponder in Torrance who introduced him to the Peninsula during a bike ride up to Malaga Cove and down Paseo Del Mar.
“I absolutely loved Palos Verdes,” he said. “It was quiet, uncrowded, beautiful, clean and safe. For me it was the most beautiful place on the planet.”
Two months into his first semester at USC, Rietdyk suffered a severe knee injury playing soccer which resulted in surgery.
It was a rough time for the active graduate student.
After the surgery, Rietdyk was confined to a wheelchair and had to rely on friends to take him places. Though it is difficult to imagine good things coming out of this injury—good things did happen.
A classmate from France, Jean-Louis Martin, who owned a small knee brace company, gave Rietdyk a brace to help him out. They became friends.
One day Martin was dropped off at Rietdyk’s place by his sister Sophie.
Sophia had a master’s degree in accounting from the University of Montpellier in France, and she worked for a French fashion company, but she decided to get her MBA at USC.
Rietdyk said he didn’t know his friend Martin’s sister was so cute. “After I met Sophie, we saw each other quite a bit at parties and things,” Rietdyk said. “Sophie and I were together for seven years, then we got married and had three beautiful children.”
In 1985, another good thing happened.
Rietdyk bought EVS, the little knee brace company owned by Martin, who became his brother-in-law. He changed the name to EVS Sports.
What started out as a company with one small brace, such as the one Rietdyk wore after his surgery, has evolved into a wide-ranging line of knee braces, race collars, chest and back protectors, helmets and other premium driven protection products designed to keep athletes safe.
“It’s much bigger now,” Rietdyk said, proudly. “We have about 3,000 products, and we design every one of them."
And because of his interest in flying, he's developed his line of helmets and other aviation focused products under the brand name Lift Aviation.
Work hard, play harder
Rietdyk works hard and plays hard—his batteries are always fully charged.
When he was a college student in Holland, he played rugby, a contact sport that requires physical strength, brute power, endurance and forges a sense of community that’s hard to find in anywhere else.
“I love a little bit of rough and tumble,” he said with a smile. “The first two halves in rugby take place on the field, but it’s the third half in the clubhouse that is quite special. You’re having a beer with a guy you fought against for hours; you don’t see that in any other sport.”
Additionally, Rietydk said, this kind of camaraderie breeds the realization that you can compete and you can battle, but in the end, you can be friends. The biggest bully on the field is going to be your best buddy in the third half. It teaches hardness, but it also teaches softness, he said.
Rietydk said he liked Los Angeles when he was going to USC, but that’s not where he wanted to raise a family. He loved the rural look and feel of the Peninsula from the moment he saw it, and that’s where he bought a home in 1998.
“The thing I love about Palos Verdes is that people here care about their kids,” he said. “And friendships are formed through the kids.”
The first place the Rietydks lived was in Westfield on a street where the doors were always open. The kids would go from one house to another, and the parents would come home from work and get together. Dinner would somehow get organized. It was a like a giant kibbutz.
Like most Peninsula residents, Reitdyk said he enjoyed the wholesome environment, and the strong sense of community on the hill.
It wasn’t long until he got involved in community endeavors. In addition to serving as chairman of the board for Cancer Support Community Redondo Beach, Reitdyk has worked on homeowner's committees and soccer organizations.
Reitdyk said along with John Moody and Jamie Frost, they ran the biggest soccer club on the hill—the Exiles, formerly called the Raiders and the Breakers which were combined and eventually sold to the Galaxy.
The Rietdyks eventually left Westfield and moved to Rolling Hills, a private, gated community.
“I grew up in a house outside of town in Holland in the country,” Rietdyk said, “and it’s like that where we live now. The tranquility and the peace are wonderful, and from our house you can see the whole city.”
Rietydk also loves the view from his 1985 Nanchang CJ-6A—his Tiger Squad plane.
The Tiger Squadron is a precision formation flying and aircraft display team based in Southern California. He’s always loved flying, but didn’t get into it until a few years ago when his neighbor, Craig Ekberg, founder of the Tiger Squadron, flew him to a car show in Colorado.
“We’d fly through Lake Powell and the Grand Canyon and it was just astonishingly beautiful,” Rietydk said. “I’d raced cars for ten years and was kinda looking for a new hobby.”
He asked how he could fly with the squad, and Craig advised him to take flying lessons and get his pilot’s license.
Rietydk earned his license, bought a plane. Six months later he started training with the group, and learning how to fly in the squad’s difficult formations.
“We have the good fortune to live in this beautiful spot,” Rietydk said. “I think the best view is between Catalina and Palos Verdes. It’s one of the few air practice spots in the United States. We go after work and train when the sun’s setting.
"The coastline is pristine; it’s more beautiful than the south of France, or the coast of England. There’s nothing prettier.”