JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- If you have a teenager, you may have heard of this place, especially if he or she likes to "ollie," "carve" or do a "kickflip." It's a family owned business that is the longest running of its kind in the world.
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The year was 1977. The Rocky Song "Gonna Fly Now" was a hit and Kona Skate park was dug out of bare earth in Jacksonville's Arlington area. 35 years later, skateboarders continue to fly through the air at the world's longest operating skate park. "This is the best place on earth," said skateboarder Nate Shellhorn. "I mean it's fun. It's like a good community. We're like a big family," said skateboarder Tony Denisco.
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Martin Ramos' parents bought the park in 1979 after it went bankrupt twice. "You know that was the world's biggest dream when I was a 10 year old kid. When Dad says we're thinking about buying Kona, that's a dream come true," said Ramos.
Ramos, who grew up on a skateboard, is now Kona's owner. As other skate parks in America were closing down in the 80's, Kona survived. One reason is because Ramos' parents, Martin and Helen, held other full time jobs while operating the park. Another reason is because Kona was radically different from other skate parks. It had tons of concrete, a 20 foot deep bowl, snake run and something called a vertical tombstone where boarders "drop in." "The first time a 'drop in' was ever done anytime in skateboarding in competition was out here in Kona," said Ramos.
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Another first? When other parks were skating on half pipes, Kona held a professional contest on a vertical ramp. "What we did which was really unique is that we took the half pipe and spread it apart and that's what created a skateboarding vertical ramp with the flat section on the bottom," said Ramos.
Kona's name quickly became known across the nation as the "place to skate." Tony Hawk, a teen in the early 80's, traveled to Kona for the first time in his career to compete. That alone impresses the younger kids who skate here now. "I'm feel grateful that I have it. That I'm able to skate where others like pros that we look up to have skate," said skateboarder Arty Smith.
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Ramos is able to compete with free public skateboarding parks by offering lessons, competitions and demonstrations. Still, the sport carries a stigma. "I think skateboarding still has a pretty bad rap," said Ramos. "They usually think of us like punks but they don't really know the inside story about everybody. A bunch of good kids are out here," said skateboarder Jake Sykes.
Ramos says skateboarding is going through a transition, similar to how surfing is viewed now compared to the 60's. His parents always strived to make Kona a fun place for families and it seems to be working. "What's neat over the last few years is that we've seen the Dad come in with his son and his grandson and all three of them head out there to go to skate and have a good time," said Ramos.
As for its future, Martin Ramos says he hopes to build an alternative middle school for kids on the property. Also, the oldest of his three daughters has expressed interest in helping Dad operate the Park after she graduates from Flagler College.
Despite potential knockout blows, Kona has gone the distance. It's survived and thrived. Kona Skate Park, another world-famous Jacksonville Landmark legend.
First Coast News