Author Roberto Diaz - Creating Readers for Watertots
Jan 01, 2011 11:07PM
By Brian O
by Bill Thomas
While browsing the “unique local boutique,” Mac & Madi, for infant outfits, I chanced upon several eye-catching, colorfully covered mini-books on surfing and skateboarding for children – “small books for big imaginations.” For a water-oriented culture like San Clemente, my attention peaked; I thumbed quickly through the five different volumes, four of which were brilliantly illustrated coupled with rhyming stories about riding boards on the ocean and on material surfaces; one designed for coloring. It dawned on me that they were appropriate both for young readers and for parents readying their children for sleep. I queried owner Cory Bauman on their frequency of purchase. She responded, “We sell so many of these books. Customers just love them – both locals and tourists. They’re thrilled to purchase a quality surf or skateboard book. Then, they’re even more excited when they find out that Roberto is a local! With so many surfers in San Clemente, this is truly representative of our local culture. We love having the books as an important part of the wonderful ones we offer at Mac & Madi.”
Local author Roberto Diaz, a surf and skate board enthusiast, self-publishes his own writings for children with a definite emphasis on the safety requirements of board sports. Simultaneously, he is developing a waterfront resort in Panama and has been sponsoring surf and yoga retreats in Latin America. Born in Panama; educated at Loyola University in New Orleans, Louisiana, and Spain’s Esade Institute; having worked in document and goods international distribution in Sweden, living and surfing in Hawaii, and now a San Clemente resident, Roberto speaks English, Spanish, Portuguese and Swedish fluently. “Why do you write for children?” I ask. “Because of my six year old son, Garrett, when he was about six months,” was the response, “I was itching to get him in the water… Let’s get him a surfing book I decided. And I couldn’t find anything I really wanted. My wife Maria said, ‘Why don’t you do it yourself?’ So, I did.”
The results are several. My Surf Tricks, written in 2005, introduced such surfing insider terms as “the drop,” “bottom turn,” “tide ride,” “cross step,” “off the rip,” “catching some air,” and “wipeout” to grades K through three. In 2007, Roberto completed My Surf Lesson, Look Before You Leap, accompanied by a coloring book, also geared for K through grade three. These rhyming stories took Moe and Lani out on their first surfing excursion and introduced how uncooperative an ocean can be with novice users. The coloring book enables readers to create their own illustrations while answering safety questions drawn from the reader’s book. Written in 2007, Once Upon A Wave: A Surf Story, chronicles the stories of others helping grom Moe with the trials and travails of beginning water surfers. For grades three and up, young readers learn to both respect the ocean and about water safety. Roberto’s latest work, completed in 2009, is My Skateboard Book, following Moe, 11, Lani, 10, and Chihuahua Hola (5) through their early experiences as beginning skateboard riders. In the jacket of the back cover, there is a CD promoted by the Surfrider Foundation. It visually shows the effects of pollution, erosion, watersheds, and shows respect for the environment, with a brief appearance of famed skateboard professional Tony Hawk demonstrating disrespect of the “Urban Jungle.”
How successful have sales been during this short period of productivity? “Not as much as I’d hoped,” Roberto responded. “But we’ve sold tens of thousands of books and touched many lives. We want to bring value to parents and kids, so I primarily look at safety in board sports. I want my children to skate, surf and snowboard with me, but most importantly, I want them to be safe. Isn’t that what parents want for their kids in the end? For them to be safe?” San Clemente Beaches, Parks, and Recreation Commission Chair, Dr. Tom Wicks, agrees, “As an emergency physician for 35 years, I’m distressed by how often the parents of a child with a head injury from a skateboard accident have told me that the child owned a helmet but was not wearing it at the time. Besides being California law for those 18 years old and under when skateboarding anywhere in a public space, it just makes sense for people of all ages to put safety first by always wearing a helmet on a skateboard, any time or any place.”
Roberto Diaz also makes 50 minute, personal appearances for grade level children K-4 in schools, libraries and at other public events. “My presentations center on the joys of surfing, and I explain many of the surfing terms used by professionals and amateurs,” he says. “But my primary emphasis is ocean safety, and I extend this to include safety in all board sports. I also discuss the importance of oceans in our fragile ecosystem and highlight the many things we all can do to keep our oceans healthy. Usually, I read my books to younger students, but I enjoy having them read my books aloud while I politely interject to make key observations.” Distribution of Roberto’s books is through his website, www.olasbook.com, local San Clemente businesses Denault’s Hardware, Ripcurl, Village Book Exchange and, of course, Mac & Madi’s, as well as Costa Mesa and Newport Beach’s The First Page, Our Gang’s General store on Balboa Island, Toes on the Nose in Laguna Beach and other children’s boutiques throughout Orange County.
“These are owners and people who truly care about their communities and support local authors,” Roberto suggests. “It’s extremely difficult to enter the big chain store arena like Barnes and Noble or Borders.” In both his writing and speaking opportunities, the young author emphasizes three important themes: 1) safety comes first; 2) oceans and beaches need kids’ help, and they can make a difference; and 3) reading and writing can open up a whole world of possibilities.
“I love surfing with all my heart and I enjoy skateboarding,” Roberto advocates. “Both are activities that can be dangerous, but they do not have to be. By observing safety rules, etiquette, and common sense, one, at whatever age, can practice these sporting outlets without getting injured or hurting others.” Roberto has, indeed, created special mediums for his messages.b