King Of Kona: Interview with Martin Ramos
One of the most iconic parks in America, maybe the world, Kona Skatepark is a special spot to be experienced in the fullest. Located in Jacksonville, FL, Kona Skatepark is considered by some to be the Mecca of skateparks. Kona opened June 3rd, 1977 and went bankrupt twice in the first year and a half. It sat dormant for six month before the Ramos family purchased it and re-opened June 23rd, 1979. Been going strong ever since! Going into it’s 4th year, the King of Kona is back, so we hit up Martin Ramos for more details.
How long have you and your family been involved with the Kona Skatepark property?
My parents purchased and re-opened Kona in June of 1979 after it had gone bankrupt twice. It opened in 1977 and closed a year and a half later. Dad was an accountant and Hospital executive and mom a high school guidance counselor and had nothing to do with surf or skate industry. I got my first skateboard when I was six and had skated Kona a few times before my family purchased the park. I went there to pick out my first real skateboard for my christmas present in Dec of 1978. A year and a half later we owned the skatepark.
How did you become to be the real “King of Kona” and take on this place?
I grew up working a the park. My duties were split between working as a manager and building/repairing the ramps and concrete. But all I really wanted to do was skate. I flunked out of college twice because I kept ditching classes for skate trips. So Kona was more of a personal playground for me than an actual business. I just never really took it too serious. I have two sisters that worked there with me so it was the classic family business and since my parents were still working it never really had to make any money. They kept their day jobs so that’s pretty much how the park survived. When they retired it was about the same time the recession hit in the 90’s. So the park suffered, got run down, and it was survival mode. There was never any real grand plan to keep the park and I never considered taking things over, but Dad got sick and cancer took his life in 1995. That’s when things got serious and I officially changed from Marty (punk kid skateboarder just looking for the next contest, event or trip) to Martin (responsible business minded young man that’s gonna put Kona back together).
How has the park changed since you and your family have been involved?
Kona has been the ultimate DIY project. From the first year my parents purchased the park it has been expanding and evolving. It’s crazy to think of all the progression that we have experienced and witnessed. Probably the most impactful would be in skate ramp engineering, design and construction. Kona was the first place that added flat bottom to a 1/2 pipe to create what we know today as a traditional vert ramp. We also held the first ever professional vert ramp competition (Kona/Variflex Summer Nationals, 1981). Steve Caballero won. Since then, Kona has always grown, changed, expanded, etc. to keep up with the changes in skateboarding.
Have you seen a change in crowd with the growing popularity of longboarding?
Long boarding has always had a solid presence at Kona. With the increase in popularity of cruiser boards and racing set ups, Kona seems to be attracting a wide variety of non-traditional skaters. It’s great that the park provides a little something for everyone because it puts a diverse group of skaters that may not usually hang out and skate together. A definite melting pot of ages, abilities and skill sets.
How did you get involved with the King of Kona?
The King of Kona has some unique roots. Back in 1999, Michael Bream from Gravity approached me about hosting a longboard event. For the next five years, way before long boarding was an accepted part of the skateboard industry, Kona hosted some of the most passionate, cool and talented skaters in the world. It was our own little thing that seem to grow into our own big thing. What started off as just a fun weekend turned into a pretty structured event that by the third year adopted the name “King of Kona”. Gotta give it up to Michael Bream and EG from Sector 9 for making those events happen. As I look back, it’s probably some of my most favorite memories. Fast forward eight years and a little event known as King of Claremont ran into some logistical problems and lost access to the hill. In a last ditch effort to save the weekend, event organizer Cameron Frazier gave me a call to see if Kona could host the event. So King of Claremont became King of Kona and is now adopting some of the same formats and structure from the original King of Kona back in 2003. That’s what is making this event so special, it is truly a continuation of the original King of Kona.
How would you describe the event to someone who’s never been?
Over the past few years I have adopted an expression known as “The Kona Experience”. There are those that come to Kona, pay ten bucks, then go out and skate for the day. And then there are those that travel thousands of miles for a multi-day competition that involves camping, bbq’s, music and all night skate marathons. The latter of the two would be “The Kona Experience”. It’s one of those things you could try and explain but it never really does it any justice . . . so now I simply refer to it as something to “experience” and hopefully survive.
What are you looking forward for King of Kona 2016?
Every year Cameron dresses up as something silly . . . I am really looking forward to that. Team Pizza is pretty fuckin funny too!
Where do you see this event going in the future?
Each year we learn a little bit and use that to grow and improve for the next one. Just taking it one year at a time seems to work best and let the event speak for itself. It would be great to see it grow and increase in relevance. So hopefully this years changes will excite the skaters and keep em coming back for more!
Are there any other major event that happen during the year at Kona?
Kona hosts a ton of events each year. Florida Bowlders Cup is entering its tenth year and has brought up some of todays best pool and park rippers. We are stoked when teams, tours and events choose Kona to host them year after year. It can be pretty humbling when faces from the videos and magazines appear unannounced at Kona. But that’s just another glorious day in the life of a skatepark owner.
Anything exciting in store for the park like new features or renovations?
Kona is currently undergoing a facelift. Tons of improvements and developments, both small and large, will be completed for the event. This includes a wider, taller mini-ramp, patched and painted snake run and expanded campgrounds. We look forward to hosting all the skaters and strive to improve their experience each and every year.
Anything else you would like to leave us with?
I really didn’t know what to expect when Cameron originally approached me with the event. I figured, what the hell, why not give it a try. Then when he adopted the “King of Kona” name, and knowing the history, I was pretty reluctant but again, went along with things. Now we’re at a turning point with legitimately linking this to the original event developed by two of the most OG of all longboard companies, Gravity and Sector 9. With all this history between the events, the companies and the skatepark, it makes for something special and unique. My biggest hope is that everyone looks at this as an opportunity to come together in a show of strength and unity. With skateboarding being at an all time high in pop culture popularity, it is sad to see companies, shops and professionals continue to struggle. Kona can be that event where everyone (skaters, manufacturers, media, etc.) rejuvenates, reconnects and inspires each other for the upcoming year.
Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. And thanks for Kona and the King of Kona. Your efforts inspire a lot of us. It is definitely one of my favourite places and events!
King of Kona prides itself on providing a fun environment for people to just have fun playing skateboards. From experience we will say that some of the gnarliest skating you’ll ever see will for sure be going down at Kona, January 15-17. For 2016 we are proudly presented by Omen Longboards and Free Wheel Co, and are looking forward to having Nate Blackburn and his crew in FL to get rowdy with us.
Skate[Slate] and King of Kona would like to offer those wanting to attend the King of Kona 2016 the promo code (SkateSlate) for $10 off their entry!