For more than 25 years The Skate Barn in Hampstead has been the go-to for skateboarders from near and far.
Although it may not look like much from the outside, it’s what goes on inside an old warehouse tucked off Highway 17 that has been drawing people to Hampstead for decades. Once used as a paper mill shed, this no-frills structure welcomes a daily crowd of young and old from near and far who all share one thing in common: a passion for skateboarding. For more than 25 years, The Skate Barn has quietly established itself both within the local community and far beyond as a mecca for skaters looking for a spot to drop in, get some air and have some gnarly fun.
Wilmington native Jimmy Ellington founded The Skate Barn in 1996. At 24 years old, Ellington purchased the park as a way of showing his love for the sport and the culture surrounding it.
“My cousin owned the park back when it was called The Middle School, and my buddies and I would skate there, especially in the winter when we couldn’t surf,” Ellington says. “After three years he was ready to step down, and I was right there to buy it from him. At the time, we had local pros like Kenny Hughes and Chet Childress, who were pretty well known nationally in skate culture, skating the park so it was a good scene to step into.”
With the help of fellow skater and skatepark builder Jim Rees, Ellington designed and revamped the space. The men incorporated wooden ramps taken from Carolina Beach’s Ramp House, which Rees had built in 1989. As one of the only skate parks in the area at that time, The Skate Barn’s reputation soon grew, and Ellington remembers the joy that came with his business.
“Owning a skateboard park in my mid-twenties was really fun,” Ellington says. “I had a great time riding, meeting new people, nurturing the park and catering to the local skateboarding community, which has always been healthy here in southeast North Carolina. I have to tip my hat to the patrons and the community for being super motivating. We went along for those early years with just a blind ambition to have fun.”
Although the park originally sat entirely underneath The Skate Barn’s roof, as business developed and demand increased, Ellington and his team began adding outdoor elements, including a half-pipe, a connectible street course and even a mock California swimming pool in the back. Known as The Egg, the pool’s sharp transitions, steps and filter boxes (aka death boxes in the skating world) offer The Skate Barn’s more daring visitors a unique challenge. This variety of options in elements makes The Skate Barn accessible to all levels and abilities.
“People love all the wooden elements on the inside, and the sound of the ramps has a certain appeal,” Ellington says. “There’s a feel to an inside ride that you don’t get on concrete. Outside we do have the concrete, and kids love it out there too — it just depends on what kind of skateboarder they are and what they’re looking for. Typically, I’d say most people skate a little bit of everything when they’re here.”
Ellington acknowledges that the past decade has seen a large increase in the demand for outdoor concrete skateparks, something he refers to as the “concrete revolution” of skateboarding. Outdoor parks can now be found throughout the Cape Fear area, from Carolina Beach to Greenfield Lake to Ogden, and another is planned soon for Surf City. Even with so many free choices for local skateboard enthusiasts, Ellington believes The Skate Barn offers the community something unmatched.
“The sport has grown tremendously in terrain, and there’re a lot of free parks out there, yet we’ve maintained as a privately owned pay-to-skate park,” Ellington says. “For 25 years it’s almost been like not even having a business, but instead having a community outlet that self-governs through the sport. We have rules and certain expectations and we uphold those, and the kids who come here know those expectations.”
As Ellington further explains, “We play music, we have a daily attendant and we keep an order that some public parks may or may not have. I think there’s always a need for that. We support the free parks because it benefits everyone to have more terrain, and we’re surviving within that concept.”
In addition to offering daily drop-in rates and yearly membership plans for open skate, The Skate Barn also runs live music events, contests, lessons and numerous camps throughout the year designed to support the next generation of skaters. Now a father of three, Ellington says that providing young riders with an opportunity to learn and grow in the sport they’re passionate about is a large part of the park’s mission.
“There’s always a new season of kids every three to five years who come through and just live, eat and breathe the sport of skateboarding within The Skate Barn walls and on the property, and it’s a beautiful thing,” Ellington says. “Older skaters from our early days are now coming back with their own kids to skate, and even guys who can’t ride as much anymore like coming out and watching the younger kids just to be around the sport and reminisce.”
The Skate Barn’s concealed location makes it possible to drive past it on Highway 17 and not even know the park exists. However, its name and reputation stand strong both within the local skateboarding community and way beyond county lines. Patrons from cities as far away as New Bern and Apex come every weekend to skate, regularly driving past five or six other skate parks along the way.
“Being off the beaten path, there’s a certain atmosphere we have back here,” Ellington says. “Through social media everyone knows where we are. The military helps too, because there are guys who’ve served at Lejeune and then went on to other places in the world, and they’ll tell me they ran into someone in Okinawa who skated here. If you skateboard, you know about The Skate Barn.”
Although Ellington still finds time to skate, his main focus these days is on his family. He is also busy with several other business ventures and recently finished creating an Airbnb space located on 10 acres behind The Skate Barn. It’s built beside the property’s century-old cypress pond, and Ellington is excited to offer the community a space to come and enjoy Hampstead’s natural beauty and even get some skateboard runs in if so inclined.
With such a rich history behind it, Ellington says The Skate Barn is ready to serve the community for another 25 years and beyond. As the Hampstead area grows and the world around it changes, the one thing he believes will stay the same is how passionate skateboarders are for their sport.
“We hope to continue to be a positive force in the community by giving kids somewhere to go,” Ellington says. “They need a place, just like we all need a place. Skateboarding is an awesome sport for everyone, and our goal at The Skate Barn is to remain a harmonious and inviting place for anyone who wants to come skateboard and experience it.”
Want to go?
The Skate Barn
55 Pansy Lane, Hampstead