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Prose and Kohn

New documentary puts 'Spotlight' on Sarasota skateboarder

The film, which follows the life of Jake Ilardi, came largely from video filmed by his brother Nate Ilardi.

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.
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
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Growing up, Jake Ilardi would skateboard everywhere, doing trick after trick to get them perfect. The rails and ramps of Sarasota's Payne Skate Park became a second home. 

Skating behind him would be his brother, Nate Ilardi, a digital camera in hand, getting in position to capture the perfect shot. 

As they grew up, the brothers were inseparable. Each was getting better at their respective crafts. As a result, Nate Ilardi accumulated hundreds of hours of footage capturing Jake Ilardi's talent, as well as his everyday life in Sarasota and, eventually, traveling the country and the world. 

When Jake Ilardi officially qualified for the Tokyo Olympics following the 2021 Worldskate Street Skateboarding Championships in Rome, Nate Ilardi was hit with a bolt of inspiration. Nate Ilardi called friend and filmmaker Liam Jordan about putting together a documentary on Jake using the archival footage he had taken over the years. He then followed Jake around for "18 or 20 months" to get additional footage, capturing the end of Jake's Olympic saga. 

Three years later, that documentary is ready to be seen by the world. "Into the Spotlight: The Jake Ilardi Story" had its public premiere on April 8 at the Sarasota Film Festival, which followed a private screening for friends and family in February. 

A promotional image for the documentary "Into The Spotlight: The Jake Ilardi Story."
Courtesy image

The film covers the Ilardi brothers' upbringing in the Sarasota area and Jake Ilardi's journey to Olympic qualification (and beyond), but it also touches on the wear and tear Payne Skate Park has undergone and the initiatives Ilardi has spearheaded to improve it, as well as the culture of skateboarding in general. 

One memorable scene involves Ilardi getting his first professional skateboard deck; another involves Ilardi trying to grind a long rail outside a hotel and getting ordered to leave by a security guard — but not before fist-bumping the guard as a thank you for giving him one last attempt, which he nailed. 

In other scenes, Ilardi isn't on a board at all, like when he and his friends construct a wooden table for Payne Skate Park or patch up cracks in the park's pavement by hand. Other times, he's getting treatment from a trainer, preparing for another set of high-impact bails. 

Nate Ilardi said selecting the exact footage to use was the most difficult part of the process, simply because there was so much of it available. The filmmaking team hired editor Rick Ives, who has worked on several Marvel projects among other things, to help with the process, giving him notes along the way.

Nate Ilardi (left) got his first camera when he was 8 and has been making videos ever since.
Courtesy image

Both brothers said they wanted the film to be suitable for a general audience, not just skateboarding fans. The film takes time to explain the Olympic qualification process with on-screen descriptions. It also avoids overusing skate jargon, letting the visuals of the tricks on display tell the story. There are no fancy directorial flares here; Ives, Jordan and Nate Ilardi provide a straight-ahead, lo-fi experience that pairs well with the sport's DIY attitude. 

"It was nice, actually, to have an editor that didn't understand skateboarding at all," Nate Ilardi said. "It made the lens of the film one where anyone can watch it and resonate with it." 

While the Sarasota Film Festival showing was the only local showing officially scheduled, the brothers said they would like to hold another in the future. 

The care that Jake Ilardi shows for Payne Skate Park is not just for show. It is a cause he cares about, as it is the place he fell in love with the sport that has given him these experiences. 

Ilardi and his friends have started a nonprofit called Skate City SRQ to keep the park renovated while also creating more places for people to skate within the city. In January, the group added a new grind rail to the park's street section. In a post on the group's ongoing GoFundMe for Payne Park additions, Skate City SRQ said that a "slappy curb," or a low curb that skaters can grind without an ollie (a jump), was next on the to-do list. 

Now 27, Ilardi has seen the sport take off in Sarasota since he first got his board. Some of the kids he skated with have since stopped and picked up other hobbies — or have had life and responsibilities get in the way. But all that means, Ilardi said, is that it's time for the next generation of skaters to make a name for itself. 

"There are a lot more skaters now," Ilardi said. "If you go to Payne on a Friday night, I mean, I've seen 100 kids there. It's cool to see the park alive and well." 

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

Ilardi has been working on renovating Payne Skate Park while preparing for another run to the Paris Olympics this summer. Currently, Ilardi is No. 31 overall in the men's street World Skateboarding Rankings, and No. 6 in the United States. That would not be enough to get to Paris, but the two-part Olympic Qualifier Series — which will feature the qualifying competitions for skateboarding, sport climbing, BMX freestyle and breaking, all in the same place — can change things. It will begin with a May 16-19 event in Shanghai before finishing in Budapest June 20-23. 

Ilardi may be finding a groove at the right time. He finished third in the street division of the 2024 Tampa Pro, held April 6-7, against some of the sport's biggest names. 

Whether Ilardi ultimately reaches Paris or not, he's going for it, just like he put all of himself into reaching Tokyo and continues to pour time and effort into growing the skating community in Sarasota. Ilardi does not do anything at half-effort. That's what he and Nate Ilardi hope people take from "Into the Spotlight": If you give all of yourself, you can do amazing things. 

"Taste your dreams," Jake Ilardi said. "And dream big." 

More information on the film can be found at



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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