By Donny Williams 8/3/2017
I first met Kyle Evans on a high school trip to Kona. When I walked out of the Kona Clubhouse and into the hot Florida sun, I saw Kyle and his friends Mark Howie and Ayden Nottingham launching out of the famous Kona bowl on their longboards. The boys took turns dropping in on one of the park’s highest features and early grabbed out, sometimes over each other’s heads.
Kyle took skate breaks to film his friends. Mark made funny noises when he bailed. I tried my hand at early grabbing. Kyle and Ayden cracked jokes. We made plans to reunite a few weeks later at the first King of Kona.
KoK was a certified rip that year. Hanging out with Kyle, Mark, Ayden and the rest of the Ponte Vedra Squids (PVS) crew at the skate park became something I looked forward to every January. I slept in Kyle’s motel of a camping tent one year and got a great night’s sleep. When it rained, Kyle invited me and a group of ragtag skate rats to crash in his warm, cozy apartment down the street. It wasn’t hard to see that Kyle was the fabric that held his friend group together, helping those in need and organizing get-togethers.
One morning I heard that Kyle had passed away. I scrolled through Facebook and instagram for an inclination of exaggeration or some sort of sick punch line. Our mutual friend Jeremy once convinced me that he was in jail when he had only been grounded. Unfortunately, everyone was serious this time.
Kyle’s friends organized King of Kyle for that Friday, June 30th. They planned an evening skate session at Kona for family and friends to celebrate Kyle’s life. I didn’t want to make the trip alone, so I invited my Savannah skate pals Dillon Baxter, Matthew Vickers, and Mitchell McDuffie to take a day trip.
The weather looked inclement as we crossed the Georgia/Florida line. We drove straight into a lighting storm that reduced a 70 MPH highway to a 25 MPH crawl. Torrential downpours blew sideways across the windshield as lightning struck the median to the right of us. For a moment, it was as if we were stuck in an underwater traffic jam.
The rain let up momentarily as we neared Kona, but the heaven’s opened once again as we entered the small neighborhood outside Jacksonville in which the park is tucked away. We pulled slowly into the parking lot with our windshield wipers whipping. Roaring rivers gushed off the metal roofing of the Kona Clubhouse. Jeremy “Jermz” kickflipped off the porch and skidded into the rain. A fellow shredder borrowed his board and went for the back-to-back. He stomped his flip as well, but he also stomped right through Jermz’s deck. The two skaters exchanged a good laugh with the drier folk on the porch. It was good to see the PVS crew again.
I greeted my friend Kenan Griffin with a handshake. We reminisced on a particularly humorous long car ride with Kyle back from Carnage on the Coast, a slide jam and race once held on the Florida Panhandle. Kenan laughed. “Also, Mark isn’t here yet. He’s at the doctor getting a cast today.”
I was disappointed, but not surprised. Mark Howie is a bit of a legend ‘round them parts. He’s notorious for skating obstacles with broken appendages that I would never drop in on.
My Savannah friends and I rubbed our growling stomachs. We did not stop for food on the way down in a vain attempt to beat the rain. I took one last look at the waterfall flowing down Mt. Kona and set off to grab lunch.
The rain eventually cleared up, but the grey clouds hovered over head. We jammed FIDLAR and kept our eyes peeled for cheap eats. I received a stoked phone call from a friend back at Kona. Miraculously, the late Florida sun had dried up the Snake Run.
We hit the road and returned to the park. Mark arrived with a cast from his undisclosed hijinx gone haywire. Regardless, he threw caution to the wind and shredded the vertical tombstone. It was as if good friends and good vibes had chased away the storm. A huge crowd gathered at the front of the park that evening as a fly out bowl session unfolded. This is perfect, I thought as I hucked some early grab 360s with Ayden.
I fondly recalled the Kona bowl session from the first day we all had met. Florida Local Neena Schueller often recalls how Kyle welcomed Neena to his crew with a hug and a slide puck high-five. His contagious smile warmed the hearts of many. It seemed as if most everyone I had met growing up in the southeast Longboard scene was in attendance that evening. The local gang dangled their feet over the Kona Bowl and chatted late into the night.
Justin and Julian Bright filmed with their drone as Mark skated the tombstone beneath all of his friends. Eventually, the Savannah crew said our goodbye and began the night drive home. We felt melancholy but good-spirited, content with another day’s adventure and satisfied to have seen a friend off right. Rest in Peace Kyle, you are dearly loved and missed.