Sonoma to salute Rob Wilson Monday
ROB WILSON in a throng of skateboards at his Sonoma Old School shop.
Rob Wilson looks out for those he affectionately refers to as “the fringe kids,” and the City of Sonoma is so appreciative it’s proclaiming Monday, Oct. 1, Rob Wilson Day.
Wilson, to list just a few examples, saved the city-owned McDougald Skateboard Park from closure by volunteering to make sure it’s kept clean and safe. He builds the race ramps for the annual zucchini races at the farmers market. He sponsors an ultra-cool, skate-themed float for teens in the Fourth of July parade, and donates a backpack filled with a skateboard, helmet, and all that goes with them to every school-supporting silent auction in the Valley.
On his property alongside Sonoma Old School Skate and Surf shop, the business he opened across from the high school in 2006, he built a low-key, mini skate park, complete with graffiti wall, where he encourages kids to hang out in a place that is free, safe and supportive. “Better to have them here than hanging out in the Plaza,” he said.
He fashioned a poster that hangs by the shop cash register that asks, “Why get good grades?” The poster goes on to explain that a 3.0 earns a 10 percent discount and a 4.0 gets you 25 percent off. He never lets the skate kids forget that doing well in school is the number-one thing.
Rob is a 50-year-old who those 15-ish relate to and admire, and that’s a good thing. For while he speaks their “what-up?” slang and wears elaborate tattoos that kids might think makes him just like them, he’s really a no-foolin’-around dad, not only for his own kids, but to all those who admire him, and that’s pretty much every kid that comes round. In Rob’s world there are rules. There’s right and there’s wrong and if you’re going to be around him, you are going to follow the rules and live life right. Go to school, study, stay out of trouble. Show respect. Build an upstanding life for yourself. That’s what up.
“I think about it all the time, ‘What are we doing for the kids?’ They are our future. We’ve got to keep ’em active, keep ’em busy. Because when kids get in trouble it’s because they’re bored,” he said, explaining skating and BMX biking is for the kids “who are not interested in team sports.” Rob says he gets it because, “I was a fringe kid.”
But he made it. Partly because of his parents, and largely because the life he found when he serendipitously moved to Sonoma from Boston in 1986, and met E.J., the woman who would become his wife, not too long after. “E.J. is always so supportive. She is the backbone of everything I do,” he said about Erica Jo, the mother of their three children and owner of EJ-588 Hair Studio.
The Wilson family is rock solid, and they have stared down some challenges. While E.J. was building up a loyal and lucrative clientele as a hair stylist, Rob was building, literally, a very successful career as a general contractor. He and his business partner had more than 20 employees and built many high-end homes and several developments throughout the Valley. As he faced 40, he grew disenchanted, and agreed with his partner to bow out once the homes currently under construction were complete. Not long before his contracting career closed, he had an experience that changed his life in many more ways than he was already planning.
Rob was riding his motorcycle one afternoon at 60 miles an hour when he ran into a truck he didn’t see, leaving his bones “mashed potatoes” and his face so badly shattered it later took 11 hours of surgery to reconstruct it. He has permanent screws in his jaw, and an eye socket that is half plastic. “I hit him. I broke my body into pieces. So I’ve had the near death experience,” he said, explaining that he was kept in an induced coma for more than a week. “They told me I should have been dead.”
As he slowly recovered and finished off his part of the construction business, he pondered what to do next. His son was a skater, and he was always taking him out of town to buy boards and equipment. “It just came to me,” he said, “A lot of kids were going out of town to get gear,” and that what Sonoma needed was a skate shop. And so Sonoma Old School came to be, now filled not only with skateboards, but Vans and Nike shoes, youthful clothes for men and woman, sunglasses, watches. An 1,800-square-foot array of reasons to shop local.
Chris Goehringer, 23, has worked at the shop since shortly after it opened and skates on the team Rob sponsors. “I’ve had his back since day one and vice versa. He’s a great guy to work for,” Chris said. Asked if Rob is a father figure, he thinks about it first, “He’s like a brother.” He thinks some more. “What you need to know is that he’s not in it for the dollar side, he’s in it for the community.”
Rob agrees. “I used to feel like I had a job. Now I feel like I have a purpose and I can actually make a difference in our Valley and that makes me feel richer,” then he laughed, “but not financially.”
The profit margin on a skateboard, even many, many skateboards, doesn’t even come close to the one on a custom-built home.
The elaborate tattoos on Rob’s arms are of his family – EJ (there are two tats of her) Christian, 19, who now works in the store, and twins Jessica and Joseph, 17, who are seniors at Sonoma Valley High School. His own mother and father are also engraved into his arm. “My family is my universe,” he said, again making clear his priorities.
Mayor Joanne Sanders authored the city proclamation that honors Rob and makes next Monday Rob Wilson Day. It says that when the city had to close McDougald Skateboard Park in 2010 because of vandalism and maintenance problems that were a drain on resources, “Rob Wilson stepped forward and volunteered to adopt the park. Rob has continued to monitor the park and assist with the cleanup of debris and graffiti,” which, it goes on to say, saves the city $5,000 a year. “Rob is an excellent role model for our youth.”
Rob tries to make light of the praise, “I’m just agreeing to be the janitor,” he joked. But Sanders takes his contributions seriously.
“If it weren’t for Rob we wouldn’t have a skate park. He does so much to represent the kids that often fall through the cracks. Not just one time. He repeatedly and consistently stands up for the kids,” Sanders said. “He is a stand-up guy and the kids can relate to him. And that is so cool.”
Very cool. Thanks Rob.