The Billerica Skate Festival

The date is March 12, 2008. Winter is coming to a close, and myself, along with the many other skaters of Billerica, MA are getting ready to break free from the cramped garage sessions and head down to the local skatepark. It’s no more than a few quarterpipes and a picnic table, but it’s something.

As we head down to the park, an unexpected fate is soon discovered. Large cargo trucks and forklifts are at the park, removing the ramps without the slightest bit of care. Bending the metal frames and cracking concrete, the ramps are soon carted off to a local barn owned by the town, where it was expected they would sit for decades.

I, personally, was outraged by this. No prior warning was given, and little does the town know that a skatepark is often a second home to many of the kids that go there. It’s an escape from the broken homes, somewhere to meet new friends, and a place to skate without worrying about being kicked out by business owners or police officers.

The usual explanation for the removal of a skatepark was given. Vandalism, littering, and loitering were large parts of the reason the park was removed. Unfortunately, a very large amount of this activity was simply not done by the skaters. However, instead of sitting back and letting the town pull the rug out from under us, we did what they would never expect. We got organized, stood up for our cause, and began working at full force towards getting our skatepark back and better than ever.

Fast forward to 2011, and we’ve made incredible progress. We’ve created crucial positive relationships with the town Recreation Department, Police Department, and other important town officials. Eventually, we raised the staggering $8,500.00 the town needed in order to provide a fence around the official area of the park. After that, the old ramps were repaired and placed into our new site. We made this possible by partnering with local businesses to hold fundraisers, as well as having merchandise such as t-shirts, bumper stickers, and bracelets made that we sold.

All of these were great; they were getting our message out and getting some money on our side, but frankly, skateparks don’t come cheap. We had to put our thinking caps on and create something bigger and better in order to raise the funds we need. The members of the Billerica Skatepark Committee sat down and we put our thinking caps on, and created an unprecedented fundraiser that has caused our project to grow leaps and bounds.

The first thing we realized is that our particular group bridged the gap between two separate social circles. Many of the committee members not only skate, but are in local punk and hardcore bands. These bands often rent out expensive halls, charge an entry fee to cover the costs, and have multiple bands come out and play. We soon realized that we could incorporate this idea into a fundraiser for the skatepark. By mending this idea with previous skateboarding fundraisers, not only would we have bands play, but we could hold skate contests, have a barbeque, sell merchandise, and take donations as well. By far, this is the largest fundraiser we could ever try to create. We call it the Billerica Skate Festival, and people from as far as hundreds of miles now come out to this event and participate in making this fundraiser possible.

The benefits of this fundraiser are absolutely huge, but it is not easy to create such an event. Our area is fortunate enough to have a strong music scene, with generous bands that are willing to play anywhere, anytime. Also, by building strong relationships with the recreation department, we were allowed to use the large, fenced-in 4 basketball court area to hold our fundraiser, free of charge. Having strong ties with local skateboard shops is also very beneficial. We’ve had local shops sponsor the event, and donate prizes for the skateboarding contests at them. Not only do the shops offer a generous amount of prizes, they help provide the most crucial aspect to holding a skate festival; advertisement.

Getting the word out about the fundraiser is without a doubt the most important part. Our steady rate has been a $10.00 entry fee to the event. This has been the main source of where we’ve raised our money, and the best way to raise more money is by getting more attendees to pay the entry fee and walk through the gate. The internet has also had a huge hand in helping us get the word out about the event. We created a Facebook event page for it, invited everybody we could, and kept a steady discussion to keep the interest up. Having bands that are playing steadily advertise the event is beneficial to not only the fundraiser, but the bands as well. The more people that come to see their set, then the better.

As well as having bands, the main part of the event is to hold skateboarding contests. Keeping skateboarding involved in our fundraising has been very important to us, and we did so the best we could. As well as bringing down a few home-made grind boxes, kickers, and flat rails to hold a best trick contest on, we annually hold a game of S.K.A.T.E. competition at the event. The concept is simple enough, and easy to execute. We have all of the skaters sign up for the event by writing their names on small pieces of paper. Then we put all of the names in a box or hat, draw names 2 at a time to match up games, and take out the names of the eliminated contestants as the contest goes on. Continue to do so until the final game, and when the winner is crowned, we give out the prizes to the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place skaters.

All in all, organizing and holding these skate festivals has personally been a very rewarding experience. It’s amazing to be able to shake the hands of all of the kids, and hearing that they’ve had the best day of their lives at an event that I’ve had a hand in creating. I couldn’t ask for a more positive response from the attendees of the event. We’ve created something that is larger than almost anything this town has ever seen, with kids coming from New York, Connecticut, and even further away just to come hang out and be a part of this fundraiser. It’s more than just a skatepark fundraiser now, it’s an attraction on a larger scale than we had ever expected.

Our third installment of the Billerica Skate Festival, which was held on April 22nd, raised $3,327.92 in one day. This has been our largest fundraiser ever. I strongly encourage other skatepark projects to model an event after one like this. Not only does it raise a very large amount of money for your skatepark, but is a great experience for all skaters, bands, skate shops, volunteers, and attendees.

Words and photos by Joe Salem and Kaweh Dias