LOGAN SQUARE — Kids can learn the basics of skateboarding — including skate park etiquette — at a new indoor skate park in Jefferson Park.
Enrico Hufana, a longtime skateboarder and commercial real estate broker, has transformed a vacant storefront at 5394 N. Milwaukee Ave. into a skate park to share his love of skateboarding with Chicago families and to keep kids “socially, mentally and physically” active during the coronavirus pandemic.
The first kid to hit the ramps was Hufana’s 6-year-old son, Rue. Hufana started teaching his son to skateboard at city skate parks when his son was just 2. He said he’s watched his son grow in the process — and he wants other kids to have that experience, especially now that contactless sports are encouraged.
“I see that my son has this outlet that he gets to share with all kinds of people, young and old,” Hufana said. “Especially during these times, it’s taken his mind away from the reality we’re living in.”
Hufana enlisted several skate buddies to teach private lessons out of the skate park, which opened last month. So far, about 60 kids ranging from 2-14 years old are enrolled in the Little Ripper skateboarding program.
Hufana and other instructors teach kids several days a week, including Saturdays and Sundays. During the one-hour sessions, kids learn “skate park etiquette” and how to skate with confidence — not ollies and kickflips.
“I tell parents all the time, ‘We’re not here to teach tricks.’ We want them to be as comfortable as possible on the skateboard. Those tricks will come later. He or she won’t need me for that,” Hufana said.
Hufana said they’re also taking safety precautions to stop the spread of coronavirus. Everyone is required to wear a mask and instructors are required to wear gloves.
Hufana’s journey from commercial real estate broker to kids skateboarding instructor started over the summer. The real estate market was “really stagnant” due to the pandemic, so Hufana began taking his son and his son’s friends to city skate parks more frequently.
Hufana was at Grant Skate Park when a mom approached and asked if he would teach her son how to skateboard.
Hufana and the mom stayed in touch. Several weeks later, he gave her son a lesson. The mom posted about the lesson on social media and suddenly Hufana was fielding calls and messages from other parents looking to hire him to teach their kids.
For several months, Hufana taught outdoors at city spots like Grant Skate Park. To keep lessons going through the cold months, he leased one of his commercial properties, a 6,000-square-foot former auto parts shop, and converted it into an indoor skate park with ramps, rails and graffiti art.
The project is personal for Hufana, who grew up in Roscoe Village and fell in love with skateboarding in the ’90s while in high school at Lane Tech. At that time, there were no skate parks, Hufana said, so he and his friends would skateboard on the school campus and at local churches and in parking lots.
“That was pretty much the center of life. And in some ways, it still is,” he said.
Hufana, who now lives in Logan Square, said he’s still close with many of the friends he used to skate with in high school. He said the indoor skate park is also a way for him to keep those personal bonds strong.
If this venture goes well, Hufana said he’d like to rent storefronts across the city each winter to reach more families. The lease on the indoor skate park expires at the end of April, at which point Hufana and his crew will go back to teaching outdoors.
For now, though, Hufana said he’s focused on helping the kids who are enrolled become better skateboarders — and to grow emotionally.
“It was … an outlet, creatively, physically and then socially” for me, Hufana said. “That’s what we hope every child we’re teaching skateboarding understands. It’s not just the physical part of skateboarding. There’s a lot that comes with it.”
Parents can book private skateboarding lessons for their kids via the Little Ripper skateboarding Facebook page. One-hour lessons are $50. A five-lesson package is $225. Thirty-minute introductory lessons are free.
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