The Guinness Book of World Records lists Arlington as home to the world’s oldest skate park. Kona Skate Park was built in 1977 and went bankrupt twice before Martin Ramos’ parents bought it in 1979 when he was 9 years old. Now, Martin and his wife Laurie, who own the park and a third generation of Ramoses can be seen working and skating there too.
Kona survived the last 37 years through the ups and downs of the skating industry. Skateboarding lost popularity in the late 1980s. “By the mid 80s, Kona was the only skate park in the U.S. left,” says Ramos.
They persevered because Kona isn’t the typical skate park. Ramos says, “There is a rebellious factor associated with skating. But Kona has always operated outside the industry.” Ramos’ father was proud to operate the skate park with a “solid moral values atmosphere, creating a safe place for kids and families.” The idea was to “keep it cool and in perspective.”
Continuous reinvestment in the park and innovation has also kept it fresh and relevant. In the 1970s, Ramos’ father perfected the modern day “vert” ramp. Ramos describes this as a “pinnacle moment.” It attracted the best skaters in the world. And in 1981, the first of five annual Kona Veriflex Summer Nationals was held. “It became the biggest event in skateboarding and launched the careers of some of the most famous skaters,” he says.
Skateboarding evolved from the counter cultural activity of the 1970s to a multi-billion dollar industry today. “Right now, the skateboard lifestyle is popular, more than actual participation,” says Ramos. “It will be interesting to see what happens next.”
Ramos’ philosophy is that “What’s good for skating, is good for Kona.” He believes the “future of Kona lies outside of Kona,” and he’s supportive of creating more opportunities for people to skate both inside and outside of the park that will keep skateboarding popular on the First Coast.
Ramos organized Go Skate Day. The third annual event was held this past June at Hemming Plaza in downtown Jacksonville. Thousands of people showed up to be a part of the event. Ramos says, “It caught me by surprise.” It shows how much interest there is locally. “I would love to see skateboarding allowed year round in Hemming Plaza. It would bring families downtown after 5 o’clock and on weekends.”
“We are very fortunate here to have such a strong surf and skate community,” Ramos says. “Through tours, demonstrations, events, and competitions, we attract the best of the best in surf and skate. It keeps our community active and participation up. This is one of the things that makes the First Coast unique. This type of community doesn’t happen in very many places across the country.”
When asked what life lesson skateboarding has taught him, Ramos says, “Passion plus persistence equals success. That is what it’s always been here. Some good years. Some difficult years. We keep making things better.”
“We are a small family business that looks much bigger than we are,” Ramos says. “You gotta love what you do. And I love it! It’s all I’ve ever known.”