A Home Away from Home

RocketKids Article

Pictured: Jake Ilardi skating at Payne Park. Photo courtesy of Observer.com.

“Payne Park is my second home,” says Jake Ilardi, professional skateboarder, Olympian and native of Osprey, Florida. “My twin Nate and I were at Payne Park more than our own house sometimes. During the summer, our grandma would drop us off at noon and pick us up back at 8pm when they closed. We’d spend eight to ten hours a day there sometimes.”

Those marathon skate sessions always ended the same way: with Jake pleading for his grandmother to let him stay for just “one more trick”. “I remember one time I made her wait for two hours,” says Ilardi. “She and Nate were so mad at me, I just kept trying this one trick over and over and over again. Payne means a lot to me.”

At 26, just a couple years removed from competing in the Tokyo Olympics and a full-time professional skateboarder, Payne Park still means a lot to Ilardi. That’s why in 2019, in the midst of Olympic qualifications, Ilardi found himself on a plane headed back home to Sarasota. He had just finished 2nd at the Oi Stu Open in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a feat that pushed him into the rankings for one the three spots in the U.S. Olympic Skate Team. Yet something important was calling him home. “You used to have to pay five bucks to get into Payne Park. In 2019 the city was trying to close the doors to the skatepark because they had taken away the city staff and thought that they had nobody to run the park anymore,” says Ilardi. “After my 2nd place finish in Brazil, I changed my flight to get home to make the meeting with city officials the next day. I made the meeting, we rallied up all the skaters in town and got the city of Sarasota to make the park free instead of shutting it down.”

In the years since, Ilardi has never stopped advocating for Payne Park and the Sarasota skate scene. In 2021, Ilardi made a GoFundMe that raised $17 thousand dollars for the park and in 2022, started a non-profit organization, Skate City SRQ to continue advocacy for not only skateboarders and skateparks in the area, but for all wheeled sports as well.

Payne Skate Park, 2110 Adams Lane, Sarasota, letsplaysarasota.com.

Pictured: Jake Ilardi skating at Payne Park. Photo courtesy of Observer.com.

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