OLD ARLINGTON: KONA SKATE PARK

Flight On Wheels

Kona skate park, nestled in the heart of Arlington, is nothing short of legendary in the world of professional skateboarding and a park that stands as an indelible symbol of the Greater Arlington Community. Ahead of its time when gates opened in the summer of 1977, Kona gave the sport of skateboarding, which was still in its infancy and relegated nationally as a niche West Coast fad, the opportunity to flourish amongst East Coast thrill seekers. Establishing itself in the Arlington community was a challenge during the early years, the highlight of which was the park’s hosting of the USA Open Skateboarding Championships in March of 1978. The competition featured the debut of Rodney Mullen, a legend of the sport and the man credited with inventing the kick flip. This high was followed directly by the skatepark’s lowest point, its closure that fall due to mismanagement.

Martin and Helen Ramos purchased the park the following June and reopened it to the public. The Ramos family made immediate improvements, including the installation of the park’s first half-pipe. The park continued to struggle financially despite these efforts but was able to keep its status in the skateboarding community as a prime special event destination. This constant presence on the National circuit began to pay off during the mid-80s when all of a sudden skateboarding was everywhere. In Hollywood, Michael J. Fox’s portrayal of time traveling teenage skater Marty McFly in Steven Spielberg’s classic “Back to the Future” did a great deal to break through the “for surfers only” stereotype that had dogged the sport from its inception. Clothing companies began to market skater-specific apparel and large endorsement deals to emerging young stars like Mullen, and uber legend Tony Hawk, who first skated at Kona in 82’ at the tender age of 14.

The boom of the mid 80s became a bust by the early 90s; continual improvements to the park could not stymie the nation’s apathy toward the sport. The park was bolstered, however, by the emergence of inline skating. By 1995 the traditional skateboarders were outnumbered two to one by inline-skaters or roller bladders. This would prove to be largely a fad, but proved invaluable as a stopgap between the first boom of the mid to late 80s and the explosion of popularity of the early 2000s.

ESPN’s X-Games premiered in the late 90s and by 2000 was the new, hot sports topic, with skateboarding at its center. A group of fresh-faced stars emerged from those contests, and soon a new generation of trick riders and street skaters filled the park looking to emulate the likes of Bam Margera and Bob Burnquist. Coinciding with the X-Games was the release of popular skateboarding video game franchises typified by “Tony Hawks Pro Skater” which featured the likes of Margera and Burnquist along with many others and has sold over 20 million units over the last 15 years. Kona was included as a playable course in the 4th iteration of the game franchise, which was released in 2002 to critical and fan acclaim. The inclusion of owners Helen and her son Mark Ramos III as playable characters only increased the park’s national cachet.

Now as the park closes in on forty, new promotions offer free admission to adults who wish to carve the asphalt with their kids. On most days the park is bustling with skaters, roller bladders and BMX riders drawn to the same concrete and plywood that called out to their parents’ generation. It’s the thrill, you see, and who doesn’t want a thrill?

About Woody Powell