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Few skateparks have experienced the stratospheric highs and subterranean lows that compare to those of the storied Kona Skatepark in Jacksonville, Florida. Opened by Martin Ramos II and his wife Helen with investors on June 4, 1977, the park promptly went bankrupt twice in its first year, and then sat dormant for almost another year. In 1979, when the Ramos family purchased the park from the investors, piles of dirt were scattered everywhere to discourage skating. But, during the 10 months the place was closed, some of the most epic sessions ever went down: skateboarders, BMXers, motorcyclists, moped riders, and even cars joined in the mayhem. Re-opening on June 27, 1979 to provide a fun, safe place for kids and their families, the Ramos family dedicated Kona to the youth of Jacksonville, and it’s been that way ever since. The original runs included a pro bowl (with a six-foot tall vert tombstone), a snake run, the J-run, and a freestyle area.
In 1978, Kona hosted the U.S. Open of Skateboarding, which was the first time west coast pros traveled east to compete against their east coast counterparts. In 1981, right after Skateboarder magazine turned into Action Now, Kona published over a dozen issues of Skateboard magazine, a newsprint mag with a glossy cover that was one of the forerunners of homemade skate zines. That same year, Mr. Ramos and Gil Losi of Variflex partnered to produce skateboarding’s first ever pro vert ramp event, The Kona/Variflex Summer Nationals. In 1980, Kona erected one of the first–if not the first–halfpipe ramps with flat bottom. (Winchester’s keyhole, built in 1978, was the first skatepark pool with flat bottom.) Also in 1980, a pool was added at Kona and rebuilt several times over the decades. A mini-spine ramp followed a few years later. After Del Mar closed in 1987 and Upland followed two years later, Kona was briefly the only skatepark left in the United States. In 1991, during the World Cup contest at Kona, Danny Way blew minds when he jumped a huge gap between the bowl into the snake run, which was an inspiration for the Mega Ramp he designed a decade later. (In 2003, Danny also pulled a 360 over the same gap!)
When Mr. Ramos died in 1995, the park was super run down and had become a liability. That’s when his 28-year-old son, also named Martin, took it over. Kona Skatepark became his obsession. Over the next several years, Martin figured out skatepark design, construction and event management, and ever since then, with much help from the whole Ramos family, the park has flourished. (Well, except for that one time in 2015 when a video of a father kicking his child off the lip of the vert ramp went viral and almost got the place closed down.) In 1999, they added a street course, and another mini-ramp with a bowl. Even today, the park is continuously morphing and growing. It’s the original DIY skate spot with no end in sight. Kona Skatepark even appeared in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 video game in 2002, and was listed in the Guinness World Book of Records as the world’s oldest skatepark. “Kona has always been about kids and families and providing a fun, safe environment for our skateboarding community to thrive.”—Martin Ramos III