Archived Story

Local BMX takes form

Published 7:31pm Sunday, September 9, 2012

DOWAGIAC — Hank Kujawa is about to demonstrate “how we do it” when a bolt snaps in his handlebar Friday and sends the helmeted 16-year-old Niles High School junior crashing to earth in the concrete basin of Rotary Skate Park.

Kujawa bounces up from his hard landing, gently pokes red road rash blooms on his elbow and swigs Mountain Dew while three other members of Skewed View pick up the slack.

As Kujawa paces like a caged animal, Dakota Lampert, 16, a sophomore; and seniors Jordan Oliver, 17; and Ian Borden, 18, practice flipping like gymnasts on wheels or acrobatically floating free of frames like spacewalking astronauts.

They come here or go to The Kitchen, an indoor skate park off Sample Street in South Bend, because BMX is prohibited at Niles skate park.

“I competed this summer in Michigan City, where I won $500, and Plymouth, where I got first,” Kujawa said. “I’ve been riding about three years. I started on a bike. I’d ride downtown and see people doing tricks and thought it was cool. We’ve done shows at the Burn Run, the car show and Riverfest.

“We’ve done shows at Club Fever in South Bend and in Benton Harbor. We’re going to get more next year. We’re trying to get one at the Berrien County Youth Fair.

“I go bigger when it’s a show,” Kujawa said. “We do flips one right after another to get the crowds going. (Jordan and Ian) can do straight flips right next to each other, and Dakota and I can do backflip 180s.”

Kujawa is particularly frustrated by a bolt failing him with $1,680 wrapped up in the bike he got for his birthday in April.

“That usually doesn’t happen,” Kujawa says apologetically. “I’ve never had that happen to me, actually. I get out of school, go ride. I have to travel every day. I get 10 miles a gallon in my truck, so it takes me $10 to come here or to The Kitchen.”

How far can they take BMX stunts they pour such passion into daily?

“Too far,” Lampert said, referring to Brett Banasiewicz, the 17-year-old Washington High School senior. The BMX star suffered a brain injury in an eight-foot spill during practice in Virginia Beach, Va., last month and was in a coma after winning on the Dew Tour and giving back to his community by building The Kitchen.

“There’s a big contest, Free Flow, that if you win the first three, you get to do the Dew Tour, which gets your name out there with the big guys,” Kujawa said. “I’m going to do that next year and see how I do. I should have gone to the Flow in Columbus, Ohio.”

Jim Rosenthal of Dowagiac, who organizes BMX contests to defray skate park maintenance and a new scooter competition Saturday, doesn’t understand excluding bikes from skate parks, though “they do it a lot,” including Decatur as well as Niles.

Several young men attended the April 12, 2010, Niles City Council meeting to submit petitions with 180 signatures to allow bikes in Riverfront skate park, which only allows skateboards and inline skates due to concerns with bike pegs chipping concrete.

Niles’ 15,900-square-foot, $360,000 skate park opened in May 2003 after starting from a petition submitted by a Ring Lardner Middle School student at a council meeting in November 2001.

Niles tucked $5,000 from its federal Community Development Block Grant in the 2011 budget for a bike park on North 13th Street in the lot adjacent to the old Suds yer Duds laundromat.

“Five grand will build one little ramp with a licensed contractor,” Kujawa said.

BMX began in the early 1970s with children racing Schwinn Sting-Rays and other wheelie bikes on dirt tracks in southern California inspired by motocross stars.

By mid-decade, manufacturers began creating bikes designed for the sport.

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