Man About Town: A father’s special, splashy day

A tandem ride is a blast for Chris Erskine and his younger daughter at surfing school in Santa Monica.
(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

Erma Bombeck, who had a pretty good way with words, once noted of her father:

“He opened the jar of pickles when no one else could. He was the only one in the house who wasn’t afraid to go into the basement by himself. He cut himself shaving, but no one kissed it or got excited about it. It was understood when it rained, he got the car and brought it around to the door. When anyone was sick, he went out to get the prescription filled. He took lots of pictures ... but he was never in them.”

Don’t know how I’ll be remembered, but I hope it is with that kind of fondness, the selfless guy who took lots of pictures but was never in them. Perfect.

Took the daughters surfing the other day. I’ve noticed lately that most of the activities they like have dollar signs in front of them. In fact, one of them just legally changed her name to Vi$a. Tough decision. It was either that or Cha-Ching.


The place we went surfing was Santa Monica. You may have heard of it. It is famous in my mind for the little Mexican joint on Main Street that serves a $9 burrito that could easily feed China. There is also some sort of pier.

Santa Monica is also where the Coolest Guy Ever keeps an office. For $37, Matt Rosas of Malibu Longboards gives you a surf lesson, a wetsuit and a very buoyant surfboard. Perfect.

Matt belongs to that significant subculture of surf instructors, yoga teachers and tennis pros who have devoted their lives to making us fit. I have never met one who wasn’t thrilled in his or her line of work. While the rest of us wear hard shoes and throttle cellphones, they wear flip-flops, straw hats and sunscreen. After penguins, they may be Earth’s happiest inhabitants.

The Coolest Guy Ever starts our lesson up on the sand, where he teaches us how to paddle, where to position ourselves, where to put our hands when we push up to stand.


What makes him the Coolest Guy Ever is that he tells you just the right amount of stuff and is so relaxed that he makes me relaxed, which is hard to accomplish. I’m usually as tight as J.Lo’s G-string.

Anyway, out on the water, my daughter Vi$a goes first, stands up. The lovely and patient older daughter goes next, stands up.

Turns out Vi$a is the best surfer of the three of us. The lovely and patient older daughter is also a very adept surfer, especially if you measure such things by decibels. During the lesson, she shrieks so loudly that it begins to interfere with the sonar of dolphins and submarines. At one point, I look over to see theU.S. Navyasking her to keep it down a little.

Me, I do OK. At this point in my life, I’m made mostly of jelly doughnuts. You know how the Japanese feed beer to Kobe cattle? That’s the dietary principle I follow, that if you eat and drink delicious things, you will become a more appealing and delicious person.


The other day, I had this argument with my wife over nutrition. She argued for the organic brand of peanut butter (which she buys), and I argued for the purchase of some Skippy (the kind that tastes good).

“OK, when you die 10 years too early … " she starts to say at one point.

“It’ll be with a big smile on my face,” I say, finishing her sentence.

This day, I also have a big smile on my face because, for the first time in my life, I am standing up on a surfboard. Not elegantly. Not with any sense of cool or control.


I find surfing especially challenging since what they call my “core muscle group” isn’t a complete group, it’s more like a single tendon, or maybe a sock.

But, thanks to the Coolest Guy Ever, I am actually surfing. One daughter and I even manage a tandem ride on the same board.

“Hey, Vi$a, lift me over your head!” I yell to her, and she immediately doesn’t.

Surfing. What a buzzy way to start a summer. What a buzzy way to put sunbeams in your children’s smiles.


Yes, I took lots of pictures.

Happy Father’s Day.