CJ Hobgood makes good lemonade

CJ Hobgood is still looking for a major sponsor. Obviously navigating the choppy free-agency waters during this Great Recession is far from easy, but in the meantime the former world champion is making lemonade out of his lemons. He’s taken the unusual — and very admirable — step of paying it forward.

Hobood has been dedicating a good chunk of his board’s blank space to a non-profit called, “To Write Love On Her Arms,” an online community that helps people battling depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide.

It’s stated goal is to encourage, inform, inspire and invest directly into treatment and recovery. With an estimated 18 million Americans suffering from depression, and a full 2/3 of them going untreated, it’s becoming a leading cause of suicide.

Not surprisingly, depression is on the rise in these tough times. High unemployment begets high anxiety, and the combination can be devastating on adults, teens and young children. Hobgood, like many of us, knows people who have struggled.

“We’ve all been there, or know somebody who has,” He says. “But one of the biggest sources of help is having somebody to talk to — a good friend or somebody else who can relate. That’s what this whole thing is about.”

The organization was founded by Jamie Tworkowski, a Florida surfer who grew up surfing with the Hobgoods. Tworkowski worked in the surf industry for a time, before TWLOHA took over his life. He launched it almost unwittingly back in 2006 when his friend Renee Yohe needed help. Renee was cutting and using drugs. She was being denied treatment by rehab centers because the scars on her arms were considered red flags — she was too great of a risk.

So Tworkowski took her in, then wrote a story about her on his myspace page. He titled it “To Write Love On Her Arms” and began raising money by selling T-Shirts that carried the slogan. The page started getting hits from other troubled teens immediately, and a full blown community was born.

There are hundreds of thousands of members now. They meet at the TWLOHA site and post blogs, answer emails, and direct people to the suicide, depression and drug treatment centers. It’s been getting huge national press, and is attracting a growing list of celebrities big and small to help spread the word.

“People sort of trip out on the logo,” says CJ. “They’re like, ‘Is that a band or something?’ They have trouble reading it. But when I tell them what it is and what they’re all about they always react positively.”

Hobgood says he first entertained the thought of doing something differently when he watched the whole Bobby Martinez sponsorship saga unfold a couple years ago. “I remember thinking if I ever got into a position like that I’d like to do something different — that something like this would be fun to do. It’s motivating in a whole new way to be raising awareness for a cause I believe in.”

And besides, there are fringe benefits. “I really dig their T Shirts,” says CJ.

Photo of CJ getting slotted by ASP/Cestari