DEL MAR — When Udo Wahn sat down to color with his 2-year-old son Paolo, little did he know they were creating a children’s book and the two would collaborate more than a decade later on the fifth installment in what would become a series.
“At the time he was taking swimming lessons so we drew a picture of him and a girl in his swim class surfing on a wave with a dolphin,” the Del Mar resident and lifelong surfer said. “We kept drawing and the thought came to me that I wanted him to learn about ocean safety, surfing etiquette, living the aloha spirit.
“At the end of the day we had a stack of drawings with different images with the different messages related to that,” Wahn added. “I showed them to some friends and they said it would make an amazing children’s book.”
His wife, Aleida, helped create the characters. She came up with the name Coral for the girl. They chose Cabo because that is where they first vacationed together, and it is their son’s middle name.
“We thought that was pretty beachy,” Wahn said.
“Cabo & Coral Go Surfing” was born, but the retired physician still had a hurdle to clear.
“It’s one thing to create a book,” he said. “The big challenge is to get it out there and market it.”
As a longtime volunteer on the San Diego Surfrider Foundation’s executive committee, Wahn thought the organization might be able to help.
“The book was surfing-related and had good, sound messages for kids about surf etiquette, living aloha and environmental messages so it tied in pretty well,” he said.
Surfrider helps promote Wahn’s books and receives $1 for each one sold, except the fourth in the series, “Cabo & Coral Dog Days of Summer.” For that he partnered with the Helen Woodward Animal Center.
In addition to raising money for local nonprofits, all five books — the others are “Cabo & Coral’s Secret Surf Spot!,” “Cabo & Coral Reef Explorers” and the most recent, “Cabo & Coral Meet a Kelp Hugger” — offer lessons about topics from the environment to overcoming disabilities.
Although the messages can sometimes be sad, such as the negative effects human behavior can have on the planet, each story ends with a message of hope and actions people can take.
“And the aloha spirt permeates all the books,” Wahn said.
The father-and-son team decided to collaborate on the latest Cabo & Coral adventure after watching the climate change documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” together.
Wahn had also heard a story about an octopus that escaped from a New Zealand aquarium.
“I thought maybe we could tie both into a story somehow,” Wahn said.
“My dad asked me spontaneously if I wanted to help,” Paolo added. “We both had different ideas so we modified them a little bit to make the story work.”
During a 2016 camping trip in the Cuyamaca Mountains, which Wahn described as “a writers’ retreat,” they hammered out details and made some sketches for their illustrator.
Back at home they shared ideas through Google docs so Paolo could provide input while doing schoolwork.
“Mostly we agreed on everything except for some fine tuning that needed to be worked out,” Paolo said.
“Cabo & Coral Meet a Kelp Hugger” took about nine months to complete and was a positive experience for the writers.
“I enjoyed doing it,” Paolo, an eighth-grader at Earl Warren Middle School, said, adding that he would consider collaborating again if his school and extra-curricular activity schedules permit. “I didn’t realize it would take as long as it did. I didn’t think about how I would have to work it in with school.”
“It was something that bonded us together,” his father added. “When you have an opportunity to do something together, especially with a teenager who’s looking for independence, it’s very special.”
Wahn and his son said they would partner again, however, there are currently no plans for the next Cabo & Coral adventure.
“But I was really planning on doing this one,” Wahn added.
Paolo said he is considering writing a book with an underlying message about climate change geared toward fourth- through sixth-graders. But his long-term goal is to become an engineer.