Sharing a Message of Compassion throughout the Surf Community
by Allison Arteaga, Aug. 2012
Sometimes the most important opportunities in life are the ones we never see coming. When two 11-year-old boys met while surfing one day, they could never have imagined that one of them would go on to become a World Champion surfer while the other would found an internationally famous nonprofit – or that they would one day get the chance to work together spreading a message of hope and compassion throughout the surf industry. But then again, for CJ Hobgood and Jamie Tworkowski, life has always been filled with unexpected opportunities
The two grew up together in Satellite Beach as close friends, graduating from Satellite High School in 1998. Then life started pulling them in different directions. Hobgood’s surfing talents blossomed, so he took off for the World Tour, winning Rookie of the Year during his first season and becoming a World Champion in 2001. Meanwhile, Tworkowski worked for surf industry clothing giants Quiksilver and Hurley until 2006, when his life took a sudden turn.
To Write Love On Her Arms
Like most great inspirations, the idea that would later become Tworkowski’s famous nonprofit started out small. He penned a story, “To Write Love On Her Arms” (TWLOHA) about his experience helping a friend recover from addiction, which carried a simple message of hope: people did not need to suffer alone. The story spread across the Internet and took on a life of its own, evolving into a Melbourne-based nonprofit with a website that serves as a forum on addiction, depression, and mental illness, and offers a line of T-shirts that raise money to help pay for treatment and therapy programs.
As the years rolled on, TWLOHA started reaching people around the world. Hobgood had always admired Tworkowski’s work, and the two started daydreaming about how he could get involved. Then came the perfect storm.
After a less-than-stellar season, Hobgood was dropped from the World Tour as well as by his major sponsor. Devastated and unsure if he wanted to surf anymore, he sought some sort of deeper motivation. That same year, three-time World Champion Andy Irons, who had been silently suffering from drug and alcohol addiction, died suddenly from causes possibly related to drug use. The surfing world was shocked, and Tworkowski began to wish there was some way the message of his organization could reach people in the community who were struggling like Irons did.
That’s when Hobgood offered to start putting TWLOHA stickers on his surfboards to spread awareness. Tworkowski loved the idea, and when TWLOHA won $1 million in the American Giving Awards in December 2011, he knew exactly what he wanted to do with the money. TWLOHA created a campaign called “Hope Goes Surfing” and became Hobgood’s main sponsor on the World Tour. It was a groundbreaking step because no professional surfer had ever teamed up so closely with a nonprofit. The two friends were both a bit nervous about the surf community’s reaction, but they went for it anyway. Hobgood explained, “I think, in life, you should do something risky enough that when it ends up working out, people will go, ‘Why didn’t I think of that? I’d like to do something like that.’”
And that’s exactly the sort of reaction they’ve seen. With Hobgood as the campaign’s official spokesperson, the TWLOHA message is spreading quickly. “People encourage it all the time,” Hobgood said. “It’s blowing me away how many people are pumped about it.” Other professional surfers are even starting to ask how they can help. “It’s been really cool to see people respond,” added Tworkowski. “And a lot of that started with CJ. Someone had to take that first step.”
For the campaign’s sustainability, the next important step is successfully marketing an associated line of T-shirts. A marketing team has been assembled, and, so far, surf shops have been very willing to help out. “We go to these meetings with some shirts and stuff, but we mostly just tell them our story . . . and they love it,” Tworkowski explained. After all, TWLOHA has always really been about the story. “Our hope is that when people need help, they won’t be afraid to ask for it,” Tworkowski said. “We’re really just trying to spark that conversation.”