HARVARD -- Selectmen last week approved the annual Longboarding Festival, set for August. But the vote was not unanimous.
Selectman Leo Blair said no, positing that the event brings nothing of value to the town.
In his view, it's a nuisance.
Citing "safety issues" that concern him, Blair described tie-ups at the Town Center crossroads during last year's festival, two days in a row. Approaching the busy, four-way intersection, he encountered boarders careening toward oncoming vehicles one day and a truck picking up event equipment holding up traffic the next, Blair said.
"I'm sure it's great ... and it's profitable, but I see no benefit to town taxpayers," he said.
But event coordinator Mike Girard called it a "robust" and "popular" event that helps area businesses, including the General Store, the Billiards Café in Ayer and Boxborough's Holiday Inn.
Elsewhere in the country, community leaders not only welcome longboarding events, they pay organizers to hold them in their towns, he said.
Blair was skeptical. "You may be selling, but I ain't buying," he said.
Girard said the event showcases Harvard as a "popular family town" and Longboarding as a "sporting option" apart from the usual fare, which doesn't kindle every kid's passion. And Harvard's hilly terrain and rural roads are a perfect fit.
Selectman Lucy Wallace pointed out that Harvard is also popular with bicycle riders.
"They're a pain, too," Blair said.
Longboarding, a cousin of skateboarding and its parent sport, surfing, is growing in popularity. For the uninitiated observer, there's a striking similarity to snowboarding, minus the soaring Olympic jumps but with its own allure and insider lexicon of terms.
It's still not mainstream, though, which explains why enthusiasts seek out competitive opportunities like this one. Last year's event drew 300 participants, Girard said.
According to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, skateboarding, or "street surfing," originated in Hawaii in 1959, born as an offshoot of its on-the-water progenitor to keep circuit surfers on their toes when the sea was too rough or waves were unaccommodating.
Longboarding is like super skateboarding, with longer, wider boards that add to the turn radius and give riders more flexibility and speed for long runs.
As in past years, the Longboarding Festival will include venues in the Town Center in front of the General Store and races on designated roads, including Littleton and Old Schoolhouse roads.
The 2-day weekend event, slated for Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 16 and 17, with early registration on Friday, Aug. 15 this year, was a new notion selectmen were a bit leery of when Girard first pitched it to a previous board several years ago. Now, it's evolving into a tradition, with most of the kinks ironed out.
Girard, who grew up in Harvard, sketched the current event calendar. One new feature: a ramp set up in the parking lot outside the General Store, providing an activity for early registrants on Friday, he said. Competitions end around 5 or 6 p.m., followed by a barbecue and wrapping up with awards on Sunday.
With enthusiastic support from store manager Scott Hayward, Girard said he needed selectmen's permission to set up the ramp on the town-owned property, taking up four parking spaces.
In a separate, four-to-one vote, the board approved that request.
Having cleared the way by consulting with safety officials, notifying neighbors along the route and contacting the Congregational Church next to the General Store, Girard said there were no objections.
Police Chief Edward Denmark said that after settling a few details, he supported the plan.
Girard said his group had obtained liability insurance and would set up hay bales along the racing roads to create a safety barrier between boarders and spectators.
Buoyed by all the forward momentum, Girard asked for one more thing. Roadside poison-ivy bothered spectators last year, he said, even though the DPW cut back the brush. Could his group have those areas sprayed?
After brief discussion, the issue was settled without a vote, This time, the answer was no. "I think it's trivia," Chairman Marie Sobalvarro said.
Girard didn't push his luck. He thanked the board and left, taking away the approval he came for.