Local skateboarders and supporters attended an Olympics watch party on July 24.
Sarasota is known for its beaches and arts scene, but it’s safe to say it’s not a particularly large city.
The local skateboarding scene is no different when it comes to size, but that doesn’t mean it’s small in spirit. Many of the skateboarders that grew up in the area and cut their teeth practicing tricks and moves in Payne Skate Park have stuck around and gotten to know each other over the years. It’s a tight-knit community that’s grown together.
The Compound Boardshop floor manager Benny Ray has seen many of those young skateboarders come and go in his time working for the local skate store. He’s seen some excellent skateboarders, many with talent to stand out in any group.
Jake Ilardi, it almost goes without saying, was different even at 13 years old. Ray said he knew almost immediately that Ilardi could become something special.
“He was doing maneuvers that any other 13-year-old could not do,” Ray said. “There’s a difference between talent, persistence, heart and accomplishment. Everyone has potential, but whether they accomplish it (is different), and that’s something Jake Ilardi possesses. He can sit in a competitive situation and execute.”
Ilardi’s talent recently earned him a spot competing in the street skateboarding event at the Tokyo Olympics. Compound staff, local skateboarders and several others celebrated Ilardi’s accomplishments during a watch party at Payne Park on July 24. Ilardi finished 11th in the qualifying round, falling short of advancing to the finals.
The local event, put together by the city of Sarasota and Bill Wagy Productions, saw dozens bring lawn chairs and blankets to watch Ilardi’s competition on a large inflatable screen outside Payne Park. The Compound held a raffle that awarded lucky winners a new skateboard.
Sarasota skaters James Bixby and Gaspar Ramirez have been skating with Jake Ilardi at Payne Park for years. They stopped by the watch party to support Jake as well as his twin brother Nate, who was previewing a documentary about Jake’s journey that he had made.
“Jake’s just a kindhearted person,” Ramirez said. “He’s determined in everything he wants to do. And what he wants to do is mostly skating.”
“It’s surreal,” Bixby said. “I knew he had talent, but to see him take it to this level is amazing.”
Attendees heard remarks from Mayor Hagen Brody, Vice Mayor Erik Arroyo, and event co-hosts Bill Wagy and Benny Ray. Maria Gianoplus, Jake and Nate Ilardi’s elementary school teacher, remembered the pair as close, focused and having great personalities that other students loved.
Jake Ilardi’s grandmother Paulette Molton also took time to say a few words at the event.
"They're great kids," Molton said. "The Olympics are great, but (Jake) is going to go farther than that."
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