“It feels good to skate somewhere that’s not meant to be skated,”  says Jake Ilardi. The entire ethos of street skateboarding is just that: being somewhere you’re not supposed to be. From handrails to grass gaps to staircases, the sport is defined by the ability of its disciples to skate the un-skatable. Ilardi has made a career out of being in places he’s not supposed to be. He wasn’t supposed to be in the Street League Super Crown event in Rio de Janeiro in 2019, as an amateur with no sponsorships filling in for an injured Jagger Eaton at the first qualification event for the 2020 Summer Olympics. He wasn’t supposed to be in the finals of the 2021 Street Skateboarding World Championships in Rome, with a chance to qualify for the Olympic Games on the line. And he definitely wasn’t supposed to be one of just three street skaters on the first-ever U.S. Olympic Skateboarding team. 

For as long as Ilardi has been skateboarding, his twin brother, Nate Ilardi, has been filming him. Raised by their grandmother in Osprey, Florida, the Ilardis have been skateboard-obsessed since their grandmother surprised them with a couple of boards on their fourth birthday. “I think one deck was Mickey Mouse and the other was Winnie the Pooh from Walmart,” says Jake Ilardi. “We started pushing around the driveway on our hands and knees and, from there, we learned how to stand on the boards. Then we went to the Compound Boardshop when we were eight and got real skateboards, and we started to learn how to do ollies and kickflips and other tricks and it kind of just snowballed from there.”

It made sense then, in 2020, when Jake Ilardi was in the midst of qualifying for the Olympics, that Nate Ilardi would continue to do what he’d always done: film his brother. “I was working with my friend, Liam Jordan, in the WNBA’s bubble during the 2020 COVID season,” says Nate Ilardi. “We were stuck there for 80 or 90 days and started joking around about making a documentary about Jake turning pro and going to the Olympics (since I have all this old footage of him skating from growing up). I got my first camera at eight years old. Now I have a production company, and I figured we could make something much more polished and higher-end.”

With Jordan as the director, Jake and Nate Ilardi set out on twin journeys: one to make the Olympics and the other to film it. “Everything was happening in real time and so we just slowly started following Jake during the process,” says Jordan. “It really stemmed from Jake wanting to go to the Olympics but it became a life piece of Jake, and the trials and tribulations he was going through throughout his progression in skateboarding. We see him from being a little kid to growing into a man and kind of living that American dream of becoming a pro athlete.”

The project only grew as Jake Ilardi continued to progress through the qualification rankings, eventually turning pro for Blind Skateboards in October 2020. At the time, he was in the second of three open spots for the men’s street skateboarding Olympic team, but there were still plenty of chances for Jake Ilardi to slip back down in the rankings. “The journey was very intense, not only for Jake, but for us filming. We started off with him as an amateur skater, high up in the rankings, with just a handful of contests that determined if he was going to make it or not. A few skateboarders were right there on his tail,” says Jordan. “Going through that, we see him fumble and lose contests, and win contests.We were on the edge of our seats.”

What resulted was a guerilla-style filming experience that eventually blossomed into a feature-length documentary about Jake Ilardi, his life and his journey to the Olympics. Nate Ilardi and Jordan followed Jake Ilardi around the world, from China to Italy to London and across the United States, clipping microphones onto Jake Ilardi, sneaking cameras into contests, and snagging interviews with the likes of professional skateboarders Jamie Foy and Tony Hawk. By the time Jake Ilardi had finally qualified for the Olympics, following his finals placement in the 2021 Street Skateboarding World Championships in Rome, Nate Ilardi and Jordan had somewhere around 700 hours of footage. Nate Ilardi and Jordan recruited outside help to assist in editing the project down to a 93-minute-long feature. After months of editing, sound mixing and color correction, Into the Spotlight: The Jake Ilardi Documentary was born, with a premiere set in Sarasota and New York in January. 


When Jake Ilardi began his quest to qualify for the first-ever U.S. Olympic Skateboarding team, he was lacking a title that most of his competitors already had: “professional.” In 2019, Ilardi was still technically an amateur skateboarder, despite participating and beating out some of the biggest names in the industry. So how does this happen? In skateboarding, there are three levels of sponsorship: company flow, amateur and professional. A flow sponsorship means that the skater gets free products from the company’s promotional budget and nothing more. “I was on Nike flow for 10 years, just getting free shoes with no money involved,” says Jake Ilardi. Then he progressed to amateur status, which meant that he was “still getting free stuff, maybe a little more than before and around a $250-$500 stipend per month.” It was a little cash in the pocket but nothing that was going to pay the rent. Then, finally, in October 2020, Jake Ilardi turned pro for Blind Skateboards, and that meant a salary and signature-model skateboard from an internationally recognized board brand. “There are two different routes you can take to turn pro: you can do the contest route and start winning competitions, or you can do the more pure route with street skating (which is through filming video parts and getting photos in magazines),” says Jake Ilardi. “I chose to do both because I like to do both. I enjoy skating contests, but I also like skating street and getting that raw footage.”