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A Colorful Surf-Inspired Wedding in Laguna Niguel, California

by Staff

Lauren Taniguchi and James Ebert first met in July 2010, at freshman orientation for University of Southern California. “Those couple of days were stressful as newly graduated high schoolers about to embark on the semi-scary adventure of college,” Lauren remembers. “But, we got to know each other a bit. Then, we became Facebook friends—which, back then, was the first step to something great.” They kept in touch over the summer, and by the end of August, freshly situated on campus, they were official. Their relationship endured even after James transferred to University of Chicago halfway across the country. After graduation, they both settled in New York. “New York shaped our early 20s. It’s the city that we were able to explore together,” Lauren says. “New York is where we truly fell in love again.”

“In early July 2019—nine years to the day from when we first met at freshman orientation—we went back to where it all began,” Lauren shares. “We got to the USC campus and stood by the fountain where our group first gathered many years ago, and James proposed.” He pulled out a ring engraved with the words “to the moon and back,” a phrase the couple uses with each other often. 

Their dream wedding was always going to be at the beach. “James and I both grew up loving the beach, and surfing has always been part of his life as a native Orange County kid,” Lauren says. “The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel was the perfect place that not only had uninterrupted views of the ocean from the bluffs, but also a gorgeous hotel for our guests to stay in.” Beyond that, though, they were a bit lost. “We selected our original date and the venue, but then we knew we would need professional help to plan the wedding of our dreams.” A Good Affair helped them navigate the waters—and re-coordinated vendors and plans through two pandemic date changes. “The Friday of our second date, April 2021, we received the first dose of our vaccine,” Lauren remembers. “It was the best light at the end of such a dark tunnel. If we couldn’t get married that weekend, getting our first vaccine was the next best thing.”

Despite the uncertainty in planning, there was one thing that never wavered: their vision. “We took inspiration from what we love: California and the beach. We called it ‘California modern,’” Lauren says. “James and I both love bright, bold colors because they just evoke so much happiness. We wanted to showcase the amazing sunset colors we get in California—yellows, oranges, deep corals and pinks—along with variants of blue to represent our gorgeous oceans. We just wanted people to leave our wedding feeling happy and full of love.”

Read on to see all the beautifully themed details of their big day on February 26, 2022, planned by A Good Affair and photographed by Brett Hickman.

James started his wedding day active. “We wanted to keep things light, and both my groomsmen happened to be training for marathons,” he says. “We ultimately decided to do a three-mile morning run, followed by a polar plunge to cool off in the cold winter Pacific Ocean.” He continues: “As we started to get ready, the reality set in that the day was going to be the most important and best day of my life, so we decided to break out the karaoke mic to get out the jitters. We were belting out Ice Cube’s ‘It Was a Good Day’ on repeat, which set the chill vibe.” Amid singing, James suited up in a custom velvet tux from Suitsupply, and accessorized with anchor cufflinks gifted by Lauren years before.

No matter how much a bride spends on her dress, as long as she’s comfortable and feels beautiful, that’s all that should matter.

Lauren was cost-conscious when shopping for a dress, but still found her options endless. “I always knew I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on the dress because I’d rather use that money toward other things,” she says. “With so many great companies for brides who don’t want to spend as much, or even with so many stores making dresses brides choose to wear as wedding gowns, there were a ton of cost-effective options. No matter how much a bride spends on her dress, as long as she’s comfortable and feels beautiful, that’s all that should matter.” She found “the one” online at David’s Bridal and was immediately drawn to it. “I wanted something that was a little fashion-forward but not too trendy.”

She was intentional with her beauty routine leading up to the wedding. “One gadget I purchased was the SolaWave blue light therapy wand. Since I wasn’t getting facials due to the pandemic, I decided to give it a try. It’s a hand-held tool that provides low vibrations for a gentle massage, blue light therapy to reduce blemishes, and warmth to help skin care products absorb better.” The week before the wedding, she got a lash lift to avoid having to apply too many falsies to her sensitive eyes.

When it was just the two of us, we felt nothing but happiness, excitement, and love.

Leading up to the wedding day, we would always tell each other, ‘It’s just you and me that day; that’s all that matters,’” Lauren remembers. “We wanted to make sure we felt that and could soak in all the amazing moments. The first look helped do that. When it was just the two of us, we felt nothing but happiness, excitement, and love.”

Lauren found the exact shade of dusty blue she was envisioning for her maid of honor and bridesmaid at Birdy Grey, and let them each pick the silhouette they preferred in the same fabric and color. “Their dresses looked so beautiful against the bright colored flowers.”

A ceremony view as good as Lauren and James’ deserves to be framed—so that’s exactly what A Good Affair did. “The main altar was a custom square wood frame created to capture the stunning ocean backdrop, with florals at the top of the structure,” Lauren describes.

Lauren elected to have both of her parents walk her down the aisle together. “I was a competitive figure skater when I was little and one of my favorite movies was Ice Castles,” she says. “So, I walked down the aisle to an instrumental version of ‘Through the Eyes of Love.'”

Her floral-appliqued fingertip veil was actually a game-time decision. “I went back and forth on wearing the veil,” she says. “After our first look when we were heading to the ceremony space with the wedding party, I decided to put it in. Everyone voted that I wear it and, most importantly, James really liked it! So that sealed the decision.” 

A dear friend officiated the ceremony. “James and I always knew we wanted to write our own vows—they’re the one time we can get really personal and truly share how and why we love each other in front of everyone,” Lauren says. “Of course, we tell each other these things all the time, but there’s something really special about sharing it in front of all your family and friends. It shares a little piece of our hearts with all of them.”

“James and I said from the beginning that we want all of our guests to leave our wedding and think, ‘That was totally a James and Lauren wedding,’” Lauren says. “We wanted all of the details to reflect who we are as individuals and as a couple.” Case in point: each escort card was a tiny surfboard held up by its own fin—“we were blown away by that detail”—and tables were named for their favorite beaches instead of numbers. “We also had our guests sign a surfboard instead of a guestbook. When we moved to New York right after college, James bought a surfboard and I decided to draw on it,” explains the bride. “It sort of became our ‘thing,’ and I’ve drawn on every board he’s gotten since.”

The colors of the California sunset and the cerulean ocean were brought into the ballroom, as well, for a vibrantly hued reception: turquoise and cream velvet linens, ceramic vases filled with punchy poppies, gold-rimmed chargers and flatware, blue glassware and white candle votives. “Behind the sweetheart table was a beautiful white wall with two mirrors and two painted vases with real florals popping out, giving a 3D effect,” Lauren says.

The centerpiece of it all was the dance floor, white with an ombre blue waves decal applied overtop, mirroring the waves from the escort board. “A saying James and I tell each other is ‘all waves and forever,’ so having the dance floor decal was a really nice nod to that.”

“[In reference] to our love for My Best Friend’s Wedding, our first dance song was ‘Say a Little Prayer,’” Lauren says. “We hired a company to coordinate our first dance for us, which was super helpful to learn the basics. Since the song is so fun and upbeat, we decided to also add in our own choreography in place of some of the original choreography. Neither of us are professional dancers by any means, but we watched a lot of dancing videos on Instagram and YouTube, and practiced a lot—a lot. Hopefully it was a fun surprise for everyone!”

Even the cake flavors were on theme. “The first was called Surfs Up Coconut, which was a coconut cake with banana caramel, passionfruit curd, and passion mango mousse. It was delicious and tropical,” Lauren says. “The second cake was our favorite: guava cake. Both James and I grew up with bakeries that made guava cakes and I used to tell my parents when I was little, ‘I want to have guava cake at my wedding when I grow up.’ It consisted of a guava chiffon cake, filled and frosted with whipped cream and topped with a guava glaze. Plus, the Ritz made both cakes gluten-free so James could enjoy everything. The highlight of our meal for sure!”

My father-daughter dance was to Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson’s version of ‘Beauty and the Beast,’” Lauren says. “When I was little, I would put my Belle nightgown on, open my Beauty and the Beast music box, and my dad would get on his knees and dance with me. It was a no-brainer when we decided which song we would dance to for my wedding.” Then, James and his godmom danced to Frank Sinatra’s “The Way You Look Tonight”—another nod to My Best Friend’s Wedding and one of his godmom’s favorites. 

Lauren swapped her heels for a pair of Soludos sneakers—stitched with the image of a sun rising over the ocean waves—for dancing.

The couple continued their ocean-themed wedding with a honeymoon in the Maldives a few weeks later. “Since James and I are such ‘aquaholics,’ we knew we wanted to go somewhere with a good balance of relaxation and water activities,” Lauren says. “On March 26, one month after our wedding day, we’re sitting by the pool eating lunch and ‘Say a Little Prayer’ came on. Of all the songs in the world, that one was playing a month after our wedding while we happened to be on our honeymoon. It just put the biggest smile on our faces. And yes, we surfed!”

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