HARVARD — The 6th Annual Central Mass Skate Festival was held Aug. 7-9, attracting nearly 500 competitors from around the globe.
The three-day event challenged competitors with downhill slopes, hairpin turns and various mini ramps.
What has now grown into one of the largest sanctioned skate events in the world originated as a small affair in 2010 by Harvard native and founder Mike Girard.
“It started out as just a one-day event with 45 people,” Girard said. “I never anticipated it to become this big but now my goal is to always make the next year even bigger.”
Skaters of all disciplines were encouraged to participate, with winners taking home cash prizes of up to $5,000.
“Some races have 10 hairpin turns and are really advanced while others are community events on decent hills that attract amateur riders. But this festival captures both of those fields and attracts people from far and wide with all skills,” Girard said.
An estimated 1,000 people come to the scenic town per day just to witness the event, which is put on mainly by volunteers and sponsorships.
“Preparing for this is really a 12-month job. I am already soliciting for volunteers next year who are willing to help me not only put it together but make it better than the year before,” Girard said.
Girard began skating the hills of Harvard when he was just 13. It wasn’t until a few years later when he and his friends entered a longboard video competition that sparked his interest in the sport.
“You had to learn these tricks, make a video of yourself doing them, and you could win money. So there was an incentive, which made my friends and I take it more seriously. That’s when we quickly starting falling in love with riding and making videos,” Girard said.
Girard started his own YouTube channel, which gained thousands of followers who asked him about the Harvard hills featured in his videos.
“I was too busy to meet up with random people who wanted to skate these hills with me. That’s when I got the idea to start the skating festival,” Girard said.
Going door-to-door to petition for the festival, Girard received signatures in support of his idea and took it to the Harvard Board of Selectman for approval.
“Within a month of being approved, I got it together and solicited competitors, which opened the door wide and introduced me to my main group of riders. That led me to my first big sponsorship,” Girard said.
Having expanded so quickly, Girard has numerous supporters, including from his childhood job at the Harvard General Store.
“I worked for the General three summers in a row when I was young and now they are our food vendors, which is very personal and near to my heart,” Girard said.
With multiple grills and workers, the Harvard General Store is the only vendor selling food all three days during Girard’s massive event.
“Kids travel as far as Europe for this event so we try to keep it cost-friendly by making everything under $6,” said Dominique Larkin, store event coordinator.
Although never expecting to receive so much attention, Girard said his favorite part of the festival is the pleasure it brings to the participants.
“When people come up to me and say they’ve been looking forward to this event all year, it makes me realize how much this means to the kids. That’s the best part of it,” Girard said. “I get caught up in the organization side, which is intense, but when people tell me it’s a lifetime event for them, it means a lot.”