Visiting the world’s oldest surviving skatepark
We recently discovered Kona Skatepark in Jacksonville, FL. Amazingly, I grew up in Jacksonville but had never heard of it. But, for real skate enthusiasts and out-of-towners, Kona is THE epic skate adventure destination of a lifetime. Two and a half generations of skaters have blown through Kona’s legendary bowls and runs. It is truly a concrete paradise for skaters, scooters, and trick bikers of all ages. On the Kona website, it claims: “Kona has survived three economic recessions and all the ups and downs of the action sports industry. That has made it the “longest surviving privately owned skatepark” in the world via Guinness Book of World Records.” Now they can add that they’ve survived a world-wide pandemic. As it became apparent that we hadn’t truly lived, we put it immediately on the schedule of things to do while we were in town.
At the end of a non-descript residential street, Kona opens up at the end as a vast array of sprawling bowls, ramps, runs, art, and skate culture. For 10 bucks you can enter and ride all day. Loud electronic music fills the air giving you the feeling you can fly out of any bowl, upright, on two feet. On the day we went, it wasn’t crowded, but there were a few nostalgic dads hoping to relive those righteous old days grinding pavement on four wheels.
Photographing our two hours at Kona was a blast. Right when we arrived, a young boy half my Gabe’s age, came up and said, “Follow me.” The first photo is of him showing Gabe the biggest bowl in the house. He dropped right in and flew out the other side with incredible speed and height. Gabe, seeing the expanse and depth, paused, but after a minute dove in. The sheer 30-foot drop into the bowl created a speed that surprised him and he landed, all legs in a heap on the other side. Then, he went right back in for a second round and landed it beautifully with a flourish. That’s youth for you.
I had two favorite dad sightings. The first was seeing a tall, dark headed guy bust big time in the bowl. Then he gathered his wits and went right back to the top ledge for another go at it. He stood there contemplating the task for another 15 minutes then went in. This time, he came out alive and landed it on two feet. He exclaimed as he finished, “Hey! I just turned 40!” Impressive!
The next sighting was of the dad with the white helmet, long hair, a serious mustache, giant knee pads and a tie-dye Skatopia shirt. He was all color and protection. I asked him, was this his first time and he said, he comes every year with his son. “If we’re anywhere near here, we come down. Or, we make this a stop on the way,” he said. His boy was definitely a chip off the old block, but hadn’t quite reached the comfort zone of his old man. His dad, on the other hand, shredding through the bowl art with ease.
The cloudless, early April day made for beautiful blue skies and crisp long shadows. It was the perfect spring break experience.
If you ever get to Jacksonville and you want a fun activity that’s not the beach, go to Kona. It is thrilling to watch the skaters, young and old. Wear a hat because you will bake in the direct sun. And definitely bring your camera to capture all the funky sights.