On any given day, the backyard of Christopher Schafer’s Perry Hall home resounds with laugher, chatter, and a repeated rolling and rhythmic clank.
About 75 feet downhill from his midcentury rancher, the 45-year-old men’s clothing designer has his own miniature skate park, where he and his three sons indulge a shared passion.
“It’s great to spend time with the kids,” says Schafer, who has been skateboarding since he was a 7-year-old growing up in Glen Burnie Park. “Skateboarding is something you can do for a long time. I still have fun with it.”
Schafer decided to add the 16-by-30-foot half-pipe — flanked by a matching patio, bench and picnic table — to the yard after tossing the idea around with friends at a party. It’s a move he hopes will keep his family in their home of 11 years.
“We’ve looked at moving in the past and buying a bigger, older house. We even found a bunch of places that interested us,” he says, adding that his wife, Gina DiMarco Schafer, and children love their Forge Heights neighborhood and schools. “Instead of going and getting a big house and making myself mortgage-poor, we wanted to make this house everything you want it to be.”
Schafer’s three boys — Seth, 24; Jackson, 9; and Vinny, 4 — spend endless hours on the ramp after school and work.
“Most families have a hard enough time deciding what to eat,” says Seth Schafer. “Hanging out with family and doing something that I personally love — it’s quite the experience.”
Seth is the vice president of his father’s custom clothing company, Christopher Schafer Clothier, and known for skateboarding through Baltimore dressed in a three-piece suit. He enjoys seeing his little brothers progress in the sport: Jackson likes being out on the ramp with his friends; Vinny is a fearless spark of energy who tries to emulate everything his older brothers do.
“Little do they know that they’re going to be much better than I am,” Seth says. “It’s even really cool to see my dad skateboard. I think he gets more excited than anyone. He gets so stoked on the half-pipe.”
The heather gray ramp was built by Jason Chapman and a crew of four people over the course of three months last year. Chapman is the creator of Charm City Skatepark, a 31,000-square-foot warehouse in Canton jam-packed with an ever-evolving maze of ramps, and has been a driving force in Baltimore’s skateboarding culture since the early 1990s. He has built more than 100 ramps in backyards throughout the region over the past two decades, most in the past 10 years.
“Building for people has really just started,” he says.
Chapman saw an upswing in residential skateboard ramps a few years ago with the popularity of a material called Skatelite— a weather-resistant, durable sheet that’s also used for kitchen countertops.
“It kind of looks like wood, but it’s not,” Chapman says of the rubbery, plastic-type material that can cost up to $300 a sheet. “It’s the coolest thing ever.”
Chapman says he enjoyed working with Schafer on the $10,000 project, especially in the early design process when Schafer had a vision for the ramp.
“He’s a guy with a lot of taste. He definitely has a palate for something like that,” Chapman says. “Usually it’s just me coming up with ideas. He had a flair and a lot of ideas.”
The half-pipe is equipped with power plugs on both sides so the family can charge their phones or play music while they skate. A picnic table and bench serve as places to rest between runs, and LED lights allow the fun to continue after the sun sets.
“We built a patio around it,” Schafer says. “It sort of snowballed a bit. But it turned out to be quite a piece of art.”
The ramp at the Schafer home is smaller than average, Chapman says. “It’s a real learning ramp. You can learn new tricks and hone your skills there.”
For Schafer, skateboarding is a way of connecting to his past — he learned the skill from his older brothers. His sons have followed in his footsteps and even introduced other neighborhood children to the sport.
“They’re starting so young,” he says. They’re going to be good.”