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Prose and Kohn

Sarasota skateboarder Jake Ilardi wants to spread 'all-wheel' access

The Tokyo Olympian is on a mission to improve Payne Park and build new parks across the area.

Jake Ilardi and Skate City SRQ want to add onto the "street" section of Payne Park's skate park.
Jake Ilardi and Skate City SRQ want to add onto the "street" section of Payne Park's skate park.
Courtesy image
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The Tokyo Olympics didn't change Jake Ilardi. 

Sure, he has more social media followers since representing Team USA — 76,300 on Instagram as of Dec. 5. 

And yes, he gets recognized around town by local skaters a few more times a month. 

But ultimately, Ilardi is the same kid who skated Sarasota's Payne Skate Park accompanied by his grandmother, Paulette Moulton. 

That experience, of learning to skate and becoming infatuated with the sport's challenges and its payoffs, has stuck with Ilardi. Now 26, Ilardi is preparing for another run at a spot on Team USA for the Paris Olympics next year, but he's also giving back to the community that afforded him the opportunity. 

Along with a group of friends, Ilardi has started Skate City SRQ, a nonprofit designed to improve the skating scene in Sarasota. 

The organization's first goal is raising money for improvements to the "street" section of Payne Skate Park. This section of the park — which also happens to be Ilardi's specialty in competitions — contains things you find in an everyday street in a city, like handrails and curbs, as opposed to the large ramps and half-pipes you might find in other sections of the park. 

"We just want to update it," Ilardi said. "The park is almost 20 years old. We want to give it a facelift to keep up with the current times. I've talked with some of the local skaters around the park and they definitely want some new obstacles." 

Jake Ilardi represented the United States in Street Skateboarding at the Tokyo Olympics.
File photo

Skate City SRQ has set a goal of $10,000 for the street section update, for which it is accumulating funds via GoFundMe. Ilardi said the upgrades listed in the GoFundMe's description are examples of things the money could be used for but are not set in stone. Skate City SRQ will listen to the community when making the final decisions. 

The organization's goals do not begin and end with Payne Skate Park. If its goal is to spread a love of skating throughout the area, it cannot stop there. Why? Because Sarasota County has more than 120 designated parks, but only one contains a skate park. Skate City SRQ would like that number to increase to 10. 

"Not everyone has a grandma or someone else who can get them to Payne Park," Ilardi said. "I want to spread the wealth. If someone lives out east past I-75, we want to get a park to them. If someone lives in north Sarasota and can't get to Payne Park, we want to have something for them. It's just about making things more accessible." 

In that same vein, Ilardi said, his organization is attempting to limit its use of the term "skate park," which it finds limiting. The parks Ilardi wants to build will be just as usable with BMX bikes, inline skates or scooters. This 'all-wheel' philosophy is helping to shape the Payne Skate Park street upgrades as well. 

Jake Ilardi is a street skater, meaning he specializes in skating rails, stairs, banks and other items you could find on a real city street.
File photo

On Oct. 7, Ilardi spoke to the Sarasota City Commission about his organization's ideas and asked for help in the building of these parks. Nothing came from the presentation directly, but more talks between the parties are expected. For now, Skate City SRQ is focusing on the Payne Skate Park renovations. 

Ilardi shared his organization's plans as he was driving to Tampa for a Dec. 5 skate session. Ilardi's skating commitments take him all over the world, and he won't be in the area long. 

Starting Dec. 10, Ilardi will be back in Tokyo for World Skate's 2023 Street World Championship, and Ilardi, by his own admission, is feeling the pressure to perform. Not only is the event prestigious in its own right, but it will serve as a qualifying event for the 2024 Paris Olympics. 

At the last qualifier, the 2023 WST Lausanne Street in Switzerland in September, Ilardi rolled his ankle prior to the event and as a result did not skate as well as he would have liked, finishing 21st overall and fifth among U.S. skaters. Ilardi knows he'll need a strong showing at the Tokyo event to have a good shot at qualifying. 

"Confidence-wise, I feel the same as last time (for the Tokyo Games)," Ilardi said. "I just feel like I'm playing catch-up now." 

Ilardi is currently ranked sixth in the U.S. in the men's street qualification rankings by World Skate. Only three men's street skaters will represent Team USA in Paris. A strong showing in Tokyo can go a long way to making up the necessary ground, but another mid-range performance would put his spot in jeopardy. 

That Ilardi is committed to improving his community while also training for one of his biggest competitions in years speaks to his dedication to the Sarasota area. This is not something he's doing on a lark, or half-heartedly. Ilardi wants to make a lasting impact on the area. 

"We just want everyone to have the chance to ride," Ilardi said. 



Ryan Kohn

Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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