SkaterAid art has special connection to Robin Williams


SkaterAid

What: A skateboarding, art and music festival that celebrates the life of Ian Wochatz. Proceeds from the festival go to the Georgia Chapter of the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation, earmarked for a special Butterfly Fund that provides emergency financial assistance for families with children going through treatment for brain cancer.

Cost: $10 for adults, $5 for students.

When: 2-7 p.m. Sept. 28

Where: 109 New St., Decatur (one block west of the Avondale MARTA Station off College Avenue).

Skateboard Deck Art

See the SkaterAid annual deck art, including Cody Gallo's piece, through September at the Brick Store Pub on Decatur Square. Bid by going to 32auctions.com/skateraid2014.

(The online portion of the auction will end at 5 p.m. Sept. 27. Bidding will resume at the SkaterAid event Sept. 28.)

Cody Gallo always wanted to decorate a skateboard for SkaterAid, a festival launched in 2005 to celebrate the life of Ian Wochatz, who died of brain cancer at age 15.

Gallo grew up with Ian; their families shared a beach house in Grayton Beach, Fla., for a week every spring. However, Gallo could never settle on a design that seemed to fittingly honor Ian, an avid Decatur skateboarder.

But after Gallo learned that the 10th SkaterAid festival on Sept. 28 would be the final one, he grabbed an old skateboard bouncing around in the trunk of his car, determined to transform it into something special.

It was earlier this year and Gallo, who now lives in San Diego and works in Los Angeles in an apprenticeship program on TV shows and films, happened to be working on “The Crazy Ones” with Robin Williams. A fan of Williams, Gallo’s all-time favorite was “Alladin.” Gallo saw the movie, with Williams voicing the memorable role of the Genie, seven times in theaters. And it hit him: He would design the board with the Genie skating on a magic carpet.

It struck the perfect resonance for Gallo and his childhood connection to Ian. “The Genie represents the ‘three wishes,’ and the desire to have those three wishes, especially when people close to you are hurting,” Gallo wrote in a letter that accompanies the skateboard. “In the movie, as in life, those wishes can be messy and have complicated repercussions, while the true lesson is that no matter how hard it is to be selfless and give up your wishes, you have to let that person go, so they can be free.”

Gallo sketched out a stencil of the Genie by hand, which he then used to cut the sky blue Genie out of cardboard. He then painted and mounted it on the board.

After completing the deck, Gallo told Williams about Ian, the history of SkaterAid and about the skate deck auction, which features more than 100 skateboards every year. The following day, April 28, Gallo carried the board to the studio. Williams leaped from his car upon seeing Gallo and asked to sign it.

“You ain’t never had a friend like me,” Williams wrote on the board.

Less than four months later, Williams, 63, took his own life.

“I felt like it was important to tell the story of how the board came together, and especially that Robin signed it specifically to be donated at the SkaterAid event, that we would be honoring his wishes and legacy by auctioning it off and not exploiting his passing,” Gallo said in an interview that accompanies the skateboard.

Working on the board brought back a lot of memories for Gallo. He recalled his family and Ian’s family were part of larger group of friends — as many as 60 some years — that gathered along the Gulf of Mexico.

About six years older than Ian, Gallo, who is now 30, was one of the older kids in the group. Despite the age difference, Ian “was part of the posse I led around the beach and other gatherings, where we would play sharks and minnows in the lagoons or moonlight games of tag in the dunes. I remember Ian being quiet and reserved, but always a presence, always ready to be included.”

Ian developed an affinity for skateboarding from a very young age.

“Ian would always have a skateboard with him,” Gallo said. “You could tell that his passion for skateboarding gave him a real confidence and independence. Instead of the quiet kid waiting to join the game, he would be off perfecting his ollie (a skateboarding trick), and the rest of us could respect his drive.”

In December 2004, Ian was diagnosed with an especially virulent type of brain cancer. After Ian’s diagnosis, family, friends and skateboard enthusiasts rallied to hold the SkaterAid festival in the fall of 2005. Ian was involved with the planning of the first event. He died two months before the event took place.

Every fall since, hundreds of people have gathered in Decatur to celebrate Ian’s life and to raise money to support families dealing with pediatric brain cancer. Proceeds from the festival go to the Georgia Chapter of the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation (formerly Brain Tumor Foundation for Children), earmarked for a special Butterfly Fund that provides an emergency financial assistance program for families with children going through treatment for brain cancer.

The event brings together artists, musicians and skateboarders. Thomas Taylor, owner of Stratosphere Skateboards (where Ian was a regular) collects broken, distressed and otherwise discarded boards throughout the year at his shop in Little Five Points and offers them to artists — kids as well as well-known artists such as Red Weldon Sandlin — who transform them into colorful, creative, original auction items.

“Skaters sometimes have a bad reputation from being hard on city infrastructure, but it’s cool to see how generous and kind the skateboarding community can be, and I think it’s changed the viewpoint of Decatur about skateboards,” said Patrice Eastham, co-founder of SkaterAid, who went to college with Ian’s parents.

Eastham said she never imagined SkaterAid would become an annual event. Now that the volunteer-run festival is coming up on its 10th anniversary, she said organizers decided to make this one the last.

“It’s just time,” said Eastham, who puts countless hours into helping orchestrate the event. “It’s time to let it go.”

She said volunteers donate their time, and businesses in the community donate food and supplies, allowing every dollar raised to go to the foundation.

In recent years, the annual festival raised about $28,000, but she is hoping to reach $50,000 this year so the grand total can hit the $200,000 mark for the 10-year run.

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