For those who feel like they don’t belong, there is often nowhere to go, unless you live 30 minutes southeast of Lincoln, Nebraska among the cows and corn fields in a small town called Unadilla.
To belong to nowhere is a sad thought, but to belong to Unadilla’s NoWear is something fun, revolutionary, and completely cool.
Karl and Carrie Hinkley not only run their BMX clothing outfit (NoWear Extreme Rider Apparel) out of the area, but they spun the location just as creatively as BMX legend Matt Hoffman spins his handlebars.
The Hinkley’s turned six acres of farmland into a BMX rider’s dream called the Compound– a free all-access playground of ramps, trails, and transitions for anyone to enjoy.
People drive as much as 15 hours just to ride, but the real die-hards, and perhaps the ones that the Compound has the biggest impact on are the teens living just down the dirt road who are in need of guidance.
A Place to Belong
Karl Hinkley, 38, leaned how to ride a bike when he turned 2 years old. By 3, he was on both bicycles and motorcycles thanks to a motocross racing father.
When he saw the BMX cult film Rad in 1986, Hinkley decided that being involved in the BMX community was something that he wanted to do for the rest of his life.
Smaller than his peers, the Nebraska native grew up knowing what it was like to be picked on. He wasn’t involved in team sports, but found his independence and a way to express himself after school by getting on his bike.
“What’s great about the sport is you’re accepted right into it,” Hinkley said. “It seems like the majority of people who are into BMX are the kids that are trying to find a place in the world or gain some acceptance. They’re much less judging in the sport. That really turned me on to it.”
Before the X Games were around, BMX wasn’t so popular.
“Nowadays, with the X Games being around, it’s pretty cool to do what I do, but it definitely was not in my time — especially in the Midwest,” Hinkley said.
Those involved in the sport in the early 80’s were “lifers” because they had to fight so hard to ride.
“We were considered punks. If you went out and rode, the community always deemed you as a trouble maker,” Hinkley said. “It was so far from the actual truth. Most of us were great kids. We just needed a place to feel like we belonged.”
BMX to Marriage
Hinkley was so comfortable within the BMX subculture that he not only developed the authentic friendships that he so longed for, but he also excelled in the sport, turning pro at 18 years old.
He rode in underground and pro-level contests around the Midwest, and even became one of the first to compete brakeless; earning the moniker, “Crazy Karl.”
“It was never about being one of the best. To me, it was about having the best time,” Hinkley said. “I took the sport as far as I could for a while, but the only thing I ever wanted more than BMX was a family.”
Karl started dating Carrie in high school because she had the same against-the-grain attitude as he did.
“She looked like a complete dork, and that’s why I fell in love with her,” Karl said. “She carried herself like she just didn’t have a care in the world, and she was different than everybody else.”
Karl and Carrie married in 2000 and had three children — Raima, 12, Luna, 10, and Jason, 5.
Life was moving along for the Hinkley’s, but after running a small BMX clothing business for 10 years, a large company with a similar name from the UK moved to the U.S., and threatened them with a lawsuit. Unable to dedicate their resources to winning the case, Karl and Carrie closed shop and reevaluated how they could contribute to the industry in a different way.
A Land for Big Use
As life for the family was shifting, Karl was meeting a lot of kids that needed a positive male role model in their lives. Typically, these children had absent fathers, or even fathers in prison.
In the meantime, the stars seemed to align and Karl and Carrie found a foreclosed farm with a brand new house on it that they could purchase at a great price.
They bought the property and started NoWear — an American-made BMX clothing company that they could go crazy with.
“I figured I would do everything that I thought was 100% morally right,” Karl said. “Whether our company grew or not, if I could change one kid’s mind or change their life in a positive way, then it was worth doing.”
Because Nebraska doesn’t cater to extreme sports, Karl and Carrie wanted to do something big to help the community, so they put $75,000 of their own money into building wooden ramps and dirt jumps on their land.
“I remember when I was younger, there were several people who made motocross tracks and had my folks and I come out and ride,” Karl said. “I wanted to be that guy that gave back.”
The Compound, which is free to ride, is open day and night as long as Karl or Carrie are home (and awake) to supervise.
Most riders are between 15 and 25 years old, but they’ve had BMX enthusiasts as young as 4 and as old as 58. The Hinkley’s don’t turn anyone away as long as they sign the waiver and wear a helmet.
There have been some relatively minor injuries at the Compound, but nothing that some stitches or plaster can’t fix.
“We pride ourselves in taking the proper precautions when we’re out there,” Karl said. “We teach kids to not ride over their heads. If it’s a trick that’s out of their reach, we ask them to not do it. We want to train the kids safely. Some of the bigger tricks, like the back flips, I will organize a large carpool and we’ll drive to a place in Minnesota called The Factory. That’s where they have foam pits and a gymnastics-style training area.”
Injuries aside, the Hinkly’s are providing a safe environment for kids to find acceptance away from gangs, drugs, and other negative influences outside of the sport.
“A lot of times, we’ll bring these kids out and whether I’m just building a ramp or digging a dirt jump, they’ll hang out with me and they’ll learn how to work hard,” Karl said. “I basically just teach them how to be good people.”
Products of NoWear
Before Riley Sims, 21, found Karl and the NoWear Compound, his father left the family when Sims was 12. He ran around town as an angry kid, throwing graffiti up on buildings, skipping school, and smoking cigarettes.
Then at 14, Sims was introduced to Karl, who proceeded to get the troubled teen his first bike.
Sims hung out at the Compound regularly to ride and to help Karl tend to the ramps. In doing that, he found both love and direction.
“If I didn’t have Karl and Carrie in my life, I’d either end up dead or in jail,” Sims said. “I was just so mad at the world, and Karl became my mentor. Karl and Carrie are some of the most caring people that I’ve ever been blessed to meet. NoWear is more of a family than a place to go ride.”
Today, Sims not only works at No Limit Wraps, placing decals on cars and preventing rocks, chips, and rust on their underbellies, but he also serves as a mentor to younger kids at the Compound.
Like Sims, Noah Sorenson, 23, had an absent father. He dropped out of high school and had a son four years ago. Sorenson started riding at the Compound when his son was a year old.
“I always think of Karl as my second dad. I look to Karl for direction in how to be a good father to my own son,” Sorenson said.
Sorenson cares for his son for half the week in a split-custody situation, and he just got his GED with plans to start college in January.
Add 16-year-old Corbin Wobig to the long list of kids who have benefited from NoWear. Wobig wasn’t going to school regularly until he literally started dropping in at the facility.
“Riding is just a thing for me that’s an escape to a happy place,” he said. “I think Karl and Carrie are a different breed all around. They’re nice people that never talk bad about anybody, and they’re always there to help out.”
In fact, it’s not uncommon for Karl and Carrie to help by opening to their home for weeks at a time to kids who need shelter or guidance. In fact, Sims currently lives with them until he gets through this particular “rough patch.”
“If there’s something fun to do in the area, it’s probably at Karl’s house, anyway,” Sims said.
Other than some much-appreciated lumber donations and a few local businesses sponsoring contests, the NoWear Compound is 95% self-financed.
NoWear recently won a grant from FedEx’s small business grant contest, which will help get them started on their dream — building a heated indoor training facility, complete with foam pits, that can be used year-round. While the $5,000 from FedEx gives them a launching pad, the majority of the funds will be raised through Kickstarter and GoFundMe starting next year.
In the meantime, Karl and Carrie will continue hosting riders in their home, at the Compound, and while throwing their own underground competitions around the Midwest called the BYOB (Bring Your Own Bike) Series.
“It all has to be backyard ramps. That way the kids don’t have to worry about hotels, and we can keep the cost down,” Karl said. “We help organize carpools. We get as many sponsors as we can to get a pro purse there, and most importantly, we try and run a very clean and family-friendly contest that everyone can enjoy coming to.”
The Hinkley’s are already running THE hottest place in town.
The best part is when kids find themselves in the middle of NoWear, it’s there that they have the best chance of finding themselves.