That’s how they roll

Indoor skatepark offers winter haven

Rich Hoppe and Dan Butler with Nick Boxell on the skateboard. Photography by Ellie Bogue.

Rich Hoppe and Dan Butler with Nick Boxell on the skateboard. Photography by Ellie Bogue.

It’s cold inside the cavernous space that houses the Fort Wayne Indoor Skatepark, cold and dark on a dreary winter’s day in the middle of the week. But daytime and mid-week isn’t when the action happens here. It happens later into the night and on the weekend, when teen boys (it’s almost always teen boys, but not exclusively) bring their boards and bikes and dance and sail through the air, propelled by ramps and physics and their feet.

And it happens when the weather is too bad, too rainy or snowy or cold to put those boards on the ground and take off, or to strap on in-line skates or hop on their BMX bikes and fly across sidewalks covered in ice. That’s why Rich Hoppe and Dan Butler got together to run a safe, clean – and, most importantly, indoor – skatepark where kids and adults can practice on half-pipes and other ramps, instead of taking off for five months when the weather turns wintry and losing their skills.

It’s not just skateboarders: BMX bikers, those who use modified mountain bikes and jump high in the air, are also welcome. They’ve not had an “official” place to bike in the city, apart from the BMX trails at Franke Park, and bikers are barred from the city’s only “official” skatepark on Fourth Street, in between the St. Marys River and Lawton Park.

“I started BMX racing at 11 years old at Rockhill Park,” Hoppe said. “I travelled around all over the state and started competing. It’s a pretty cool way to get around.”

Hoppe and Butler met back in the 1980s, when skateboarding and trick biking were on the fringes. Recognizing each other as kindred spirits led to their long friendship, to joining forces to get the indoor skatepark up and running and to turn it into a nonprofit organization so they can do fundraisers to keep the lights on with a modicum of heat in the winter. They’re planning another fundraiser in July.

“It costs $50,000 a year to keep it open,” Hoppe said. “A major challenge is squeezing money out of a bunch of broke kids.”

The kids come on different nights, depending on if they skate or ride, and admission is $5 for two hours or $10 for four hours. The truly dedicated can buy a monthly membership, which gets them 24-hour access via a keycode.

The indoor park was built and decorated all with volunteer work. Graffiti artists have decorated the walls, and there are separate spaces for riders of different skill levels.

“The camaraderie, the sense of accomplishment, the attitude,” is what keeps the skate park’s visitors coming back, Hoppe said. “If you fall down, you get back up.”

And, he noted, injuries do happen: “You’re gonna get hurt. It’s 90 percent fun and 10 percent injuries.”

Still, the park’s users get along really well. “They push each other” to improve, Hoppe said. “We’ve never even had a fight.”

First appeared in the March 2016 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.

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