Man’s best friend: seal?

A local surfer’s experiences in the ocean with sea life has inspired a children’s book. His aim is to teach young people to develop deeper connections with the ocean and its inhabitants

By Kirsten Merritt

A new book by Paul Gallagher teaches youth to cultivate greater connections with the ocean and its inhabitants

A new book by Paul Gallagher teaches youth to cultivate greater connections with the ocean and its inhabitants

If there is one message Paul Gallagher wants children to take away from his recently published book, The Surfer and the Seal, it is that the ocean is a magical place, filled with friends.

The Santa Cruz resident and lifelong surfer has been riding the waves in Santa Cruz for more than 50 years, and has plenty of stories about interactions with sea life. Gallagher has molded his experiences over the years into a book with a moral that young people can connect with.

Gallagher’s unique way of approaching conservation is through kinship, which, he says, is a topic that young people have a very pure understanding of early on in life. As a docent at the Natural Bridges State Park, when Gallagher teaches his students about tide pools, he personifies the creatures that live in them as superheroes, providing each one with a special superpower, or incredible attribute. He explains that this method allows children to relate the creatures to an area of their interest—to something they are already familiar with.

“In the book I communicate my friendship with tide pool creatures and of course the seal,” he says.”I use friendship as the means to a deeper message. That is, you take care of your friends, they are special and you want to protect them. I’ve found in talking with hundreds of kids that they understand this at their core.”

This pulls them in and keeps the ideas in mind even after the tour is over, Gallagher says.

The Surfer and the Seal outlines the beauty of the various forms of life one may find around Santa Cruz beaches. The book is rife with illustrations of the creatures that live in the ocean or in surrounding tide pools, done by recent UC Santa Cruz graduate Monica Chenglo. In her illustrations she captures a depth and complexity, akin to the multidimensionality of the ocean.

Author Paul Gallagher pictured with the book's illustrator Monica Chenglo

Author Paul Gallagher pictured with the book’s illustrator Monica Chenglo

As for Gallagher, he says his focus on the seal as a character originates from a deeper place in his own lineage than just surfing.

“I think I have something about seals in my DNA,” he says. “There are old Irish myths about Selkies who live as seals in the sea but shed their skin to become human on land. My people in Ireland have lived on the sea for generations. So, in the case of the book, the seal that got me to write it was a friend. It would hang with me, look at me with those deep eyes and be happy to be with me. There was a connection.”

Win a copy of the book TONIGHT!

The Save the Waves Film Festival will be held at 7 p.m. this evening (Saturday, Nov. 14) at the Patagonia Outlet, 415 River Street. The book The Surfer and the Seal will be among the prizes awarded to raffle winners. For ticket information click here.

Stop by the Homeless Garden Project, located downtown at 110 Cooper St #100g., on December 12th at 2pm for an upcoming book signing, where you can pick up a copy and meet the author.

To learn more about the book, visit


Joel Hersch

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