One of the great things about skateboarding is the role it plays as a “social glue”—a glue that binds and unites people of all walks and creeds together over the common bond of shredding the good wood. This is an organic process which happens on its own, but when purposefully and creativity crafted it can create a positive and productive environment that strengthens not just the individual skateboarder, but also the entire skateboarding community surrounding it. This simple philosophy has inspired an event that this August 5-7, 2016 will go off for its seventh consecutive year in a row. The event is held every year in Harvard, Massattuttes and the name is Central Mass 7. This year’s event ready to get lit for yet another killer weekend of skateboarding and catering to all the various disciplines of our art form. Wheelbase Magazine is honored and absolutely stoked to be the media partner for this year’s largest skate everything event—an event that promises all the classic shenanigans from previous years, along with some new elements that are sure to tingle the tastebuds of all who ride skateboards. Anyway, we were able to catch up with event organizer, Mike Girard, to ask him a few questions about this years gathering and what all of us eager skaters can expect to see at this year’s Central Mass 7 event.
Tell usabout the race course. Is it a grip run or does it require drifts? How many turns does it have? Is it beginner friendly? Passing opportunities? How about the slide jam course?
The race course is a 1-mile stretch of pristine pavement through lush rural forest. It has some exciting dips and 4 sweeping turns, but is all grip – no drifts. This lends itself to lots of drafting and passing, and strategic racing is required to get atop the podium.
The road is composed of two prolonged downhill sections connected by a flat middle section. Race speeds vary from the low-30s to low-40s (max), with most skaters tucking through the slower middle portion (although pushing is allowed, if necessary).
It’s definitely a beginner friendly course – Central Mass is a lot of downhillers’ first-ever race – but also great for experienced racers. It’s super fun to skate in a big pack, and we consistently have top pros atop the podium. If you are new to DH and want to chill and carve, you can keep your speed limited to upper 20s-lower 30s.
The slide jam course is an exciting, steep and twisty strip of similarly beautiful pavement and surroundings. The upper half is a mellow grade, filled with kickers, pole jams, a big air ramp, boxes and a variety of other “features.” The road then takes a left sweeping turn and gets WAY steeper; this lower half of the hill is where the big sliding action happens. It flattens out at the base with a big shutdown area, spectator zone and all the sponsor tents. Here’s a hill profile to give you some more context:
What is schedule as far as practice, qualifying, and race heats? If no qualifying, how will heats be determined?
Rider check-in begins during Friday’s Mini Ramp Jam (more on that later). We try to process as many riders as possible on Friday in order to get a fast jump on Saturday morning, when we start processing remaining riders at 8AM sharp. We close the road and begin practice runs at 9AM, we open the mini ramp for free-skate at 10AM, and then we begin racing at 11AM. The mini remains open all day to skate for fun.
Sunday’s Slide Jam check-in begins a bit later at 9AM, with practice starting at 10 and slide jam heats beginning at 11. The afternoon features our exciting big air and longest slide contests, and we hope to have lots of people hitting the ramps on the upper portion of the road.
The full schedule is available at http://skatecentralMA.com/schedule
Can you describe the new race format that you’re debuting this year? What happens to racers after they’re eliminated – is it possible to “freeride” the race course?
Instead of Pro and Am race brackets, we’re trying a new “2nd Chance” format this year. Aside from Women’s & Juniors, all riders are seeded randomly into one massive Open bracket. Out of every heat of 6, the top 3 advance into an “A Bracket” with cash podium. The bottom 3 – who would have normally been knocked out – move into a “B Bracket,” where they get to race for product prizes. This guarantees everyone at least 2 race heats, and takes away the confusion about “do I sign up for Pro or Am? What’s the difference?” Receptions has been very positive to this new format.
The best part is that even after you’re eliminated, you get to keep skating shuttled runs all day; in essence, the race slowly turns into a freeride as more and more competitors get knocked out. We have plenty of riders who register with no real competitive aspirations; instead, they view the race as an opportunity to score tons of shuttled runs on a fun, safe, closed road course. That’s what the registration fee provides, and someone who purely wants to freeride can just opt out of their race heat and skate for fun.
Many races require riders to wear leathers in order to participate. Does the race at Central Mass have any requirements, safety gear or beyond, in order to be eligible to compete?
For the race and slide jam, we require at least a half-shell helmet and slide gloves. Additional safety gear such as full-face helmets, pads and leathers are recommended, but not required. I want to make it as easy as possible to participate, while still being safe. We run a gear inspection at rider check-in to make sure helmets and gloves are in good condition.
For the mini ramp jam, helmets and pads are recommended, but not required.
There is also a mini ramp jam and street course. What is that all about?
Central Mass has always been about welcoming as many different types of skaters as possible. To that end, I decided to add the mini ramp 2 years ago. Interest in Central Mass had continued to grow, and I didn’t want to pigeon-hole it as a single-discipline or “longboard only” event. Interest was strong from the get-go, and the mini ramp offers a great central gathering point – not to mention great easy spectating. The ramp is right in the heart of sponsor village in Harvard’s Town Center, with a variety of ramps, rails, boxes and pole jams forming a street course in the adjacent parking lot.
Friday begins with an open skate at noon, progressing into Best Trick and Open Jam contests later in the afternoon. The ramp remains open to skate all day on Saturday – all that is required is a $15 registration and you can rip the ramp all day both days (street course is Saturday only).
- Distaster on the mini. Heated session. Photo: Khaleeq.
I hear you and your crew prepare this event from the ground up. Can you give us some of the back end work that you put in to make this event go off.
There is a ton of back-end work to make this event happen. For the ~10 months prior to the event, I work solo on logistics steps such as coordinating the Board of Selectmen and Parks & Rec approvals, art commission, police detail, insurance policy, mini ramp, truck and equipment rentals, shuttle buses, porta potties, ambulance squad, sponsor acquisition, staff recruitment & assignment, group hotel reservation, resident mailings, advertising, social media, radios, taxes, LLC paperwork and flyer, poster and t-shirt printing.
As the event draws closer, the team grows bigger. We make our own hay bales locally in town, and a team of volunteers help me with the baling and stacking. (Check out this video to learn more about the hay process).
About a week before the event, we pull the ramps out of storage and get to repairing and building with a small crew of carpentry-savvy helpers. Key staff members arrive a few days before the event for the final heavy prep, and then our team grows to roughly 30 volunteer Staff members during the course of the event. My parents are absolutely Godlike throughout with their support.
How does the local community feel about a bunch of skate rats descending into their town for the weekend?
The Harvard community has been amazing. We work really hard to limit any negative impact of the event on the town – we are meticulous in our resident outreach, Board of Selectmen presentation, post-event cleanup, road access protocol and property use. We view the Festival as a unique, valuable and iconic enrichment of the Harvard community. The vast majority of residents see it that way, too, and we try to make every accommodation possible for anyone who’s not enthused. It’s probably 75% preparation and 25% damage control. I think it helps that I lived most of my life in Harvard, too – I’m not some outsider ransacking their peaceful village. We incorporate as many local businesses as possible, and work closely with the Town of Harvard Police Department and Ambulance Squad. I’m forever grateful that the town welcomes the Central Mass Skate Festival into their midst.
As the level of skateboarding has progressed, how have you progressed the event in order to still challenge riders year after year?
The event has grown steadily from a 1-day, 1-venue, 45-person affair to its current status as a 3-day, 4-venue Festival with hundreds of competitors. First we added a dedicated slide jam hill / day, and then the mini ramp. We can’t change the hills themselves, but the number and quality of ramps and rails increases each year, as does the level of polish on the organizational side. Each year we make many revisions and improvements to the event format to make sure we maximize the value of everyone’s registration. The goal is to send everyone home with a huge smile on their face, lots of new friends and memories, and leftover stoke to last through next year.
On the registration page we see a place to sign up for an after party. Tell us more about what all will be going down with this.
The after-party is a super fun all-ages gathering at The Billiards Café in the next town over. It’s an absolute blast. Our shuttle buses pick riders up directly from the event hotel and drop them off at the party, and then brings them back home at night – no one has to drive. We usually have a couple DJs spinning music, and we’re hoping to premiere a sick new video this year, too. The venue fills with hundreds of skaters playing pool, dancing, drinking, eating, and sharing stories from the race that day. It’s always a blast.
You’ve been doing this for 7 years so obviously you have it pretty dialed in. What is the catalyst that has been keeping this event going so successfully time and time again?
I really believe in the value of events for the skateboard community. Central Mass is where I’ve met the majority of my skate homies that I know, admire and ride with to this day. It’s led me to the companies that I work for to this day. Every year, I am blown away by how many kids say it was the best weekend of their life; how they’re motivated to go out and skate and link up with other riders; and how they can’t wait for next year. This feedback is incredibly meaningful to me. By catering to all skill levels and disciplines, I hope to provide an anchor to our greater community, and a means of growing and connecting our scene from every corner. Anyone who organizes skate events knows they aren’t profitable, so the real catalyst the goal to give back to skateboarding, and to grow our next generation of riders.
With ten months of planning and preparation, this event promises to one for the books. Registration is live on the CenMass main page and as an incentive to get on it early, the Mids Crew has donated one of their Midslids full face brain buckets that will be given away to one lucky ripper who registers before July 21. Reserve your spot today for any or all of the scheduled events and come hang out with the single best community of individuals on planet earth. See y’all soon!