Girard bids bittersweet farewell to Central Mass Skate Fest

I smiled as Mike Girard (Bromfield Class of 2008) came toward me across the floor of the General Store, pulling off his helmet. “I just have to find a place to recharge this,” he said, gesturing to the skateboard under his arm. Clueless, I asked, “They’re electric now?” He grinned at me kindly.

We were meeting to talk about the Central Mass Skate Festival coming up August 2-4 and the story of how Mike started the event 10 years ago and why this year would be the last for the longboard competition here in Harvard.

Mike Girard rides a handmade hay bale into position. (Photos by Lisa Aciukewicz)

“It’s been a good run,” said Mike; “We’re ending on a positive note.” He said it’s rare for such an event to last this long; usually either the host or the event manager ends it because of a disagreement of some sort. But Mike said the residents of Harvard have been “amazing,” and he is thankful the town has tolerated the event for so long. “It’s just that the event has run its course,” Mike said (with no pun intended).

The race course runs downhill on Old Littleton Road from Pinnacle to Fairbank at the center, with shuttle buses driving skateboarders to the start, and spectators watching along the way, especially at the finish line near Cross Street. The halfpipe will be in front of the General Store for freeride, and the slide jam takes place on Sunday down Old Schoolhouse Road. Shuttle buses for boarders and spectators will run, with free admission, to the bottom of Old Schoolhouse Road, where there will be food vendors and music; the grill from the General Store, open there for two days, will be serving on Sunday at the slide jam site from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The General Store is collaborating with Mike to serve breakfasts and lunches to Mike’s staff. Upstairs, T-shirts and posters will be for sale, and, in keeping with Mike’s commitment to being green, stainless pint cups will be sold for drinks. During his years at Bromfield, Mike used to skateboard to work on part of the official longboard race course he would later create. Starting from his house on Pinnacle Road, he would board down Old Littleton to his job at the General Store. With his work ethic and outgoing personality, he forged a lasting friendship with owner Scott Hayward that would work to their mutual advantage years later.

High school entrepreneur

Mike became an entrepreneur while he was still in high school. For his senior project he worked with Don Phillips to start the Harvard Ultimate Club at Bromfield, where it has continued as a school sport. He started a landscaping business, Collegiate Greenscaping, which, as the name implies, was a sustainable venture. He ran that for three years and a fourth that he managed remotely.

Dan Modern does a blunt backside flip at the 2018 Central Mass Skate Fest.

It was after his freshman year at Colgate University (Class of 2012) that Mike created the Central Mass Skate Festival, stemming from his passion for boarding and his desire to do an immersive event for Harvard that would be both fun and profitable for the community. In July of that summer he went to the Select Board to ask how he could get an event permit and arrange for two road closings, ambulance, and police—all in time for an August festival. Mike said the board members laughed at all there was for him to do in such a short time. But he was determined, and the Tuesday before the scheduled Saturday events, he got unanimous approval from the board (whose members had to eat their hats).

The first requirement was to get signatures of approval from the 32 residents directly affected by the events. He went door-to-door and met with overwhelming support, missing only one signature. He had to ensure that residents on the race route could enter and leave their homes safely during the events. For the next five years Mike renewed the request and accommodated any complaints from residents. There were few, said Mike, “and the ones who complained at first ended up being among the most supportive.” The fourth year Mike added a second day with the slide jam, and the fifth year saw an extension to three days and the small halfpipe at the General Store.

Volunteer run

Mike built a volunteer staff to work the event, a critical mass of whom has gone on to work with him at his other events. His parents have opened their home and yard every year for the volunteer staff to camp. His mom cooks and his dad has repaired the ramps and built a new one. The ambulance crews have been amazing, said Mike, who holds an annual drawing to benefit them. Fortunately, there have been few accidents, with the worst a concussion and a broken collar bone.

Mike Girard (left) makes announcements at the 2018 slide jam competition.

The Central Mass is the “only event where the organizer makes his own hay bales,” said Mike, describing how Tim Arnold of Old Mill Road taught him how to run farm equipment and make the bales to use along the road for the safety of the racers. He said the hay bales are his “babies,” and he warns participants: “Don’t run into them.” The bales line Old School House Road for the slide jam and go in front of telephone poles and other potential danger spots on the race route. They get recycled through Paul Willard.

A final celebration

Mike said the event landed in the red last year and is no longer financially viable “because of high production costs that can’t realistically be met because of ongoing declines in both registration numbers and sponsorship funding.” Central Mass is a stand-alone event rather than a qualifying race for events like the World Cup, and although Mike has added greater challenges to the smaller events, there isn’t any way to make the downhill course more difficult. But Mike didn’t want Central Mass to just disappear. Instead, he “wanted to reach the decade mark and give everyone a chance to celebrate the event together in Harvard.” Skaters come to the event from many different states and some from other countries, and countless memories and connections in the skate world have been formed here, said Mike. Many Harvard residents will miss the excitement and good will of hosting this annual event.

Mike, who has a “day job” as a sales rep for several manufacturers of snowboard, skateboard, and mountaineering equipment, has taken over the organization of two other skateboard sports events. One is Killington International Downhill Federation, and the other is Gravity Fest, in Central New York; both are on the World Cup qualifying circuit. Mike said downhill boarding may become a 2024 Olympic event. World Roller Games has announced that for the first time there will be Olympic tryouts in Barcelona this July. (Perhaps some future Olympian will thank Mike Girard for getting their start at the Central Mass.)

In an email Mike wrote: “This event has been my biggest life project, and it helped me shape my trajectory since its founding nearly 10 years ago. It’s been a labor of love and a passion project whose ending is bittersweet. I’m really appreciative of the town’s acceptance of this event and hope that Harvard’s residents feel it has contributed positively to the local community.”

Festival schedule at
  skatecentralma.com/schedule

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