A tent cathedral of surf babies

Yesterday we attended the “Billabong Girls Cascais Festival” – what the widespread local signage seemed to indicate would be a female pro surfing extravaganza. As I mentioned before, we were psyched to see some extreme competition in the rough and tumble waves of Portugal. Guincho Beach is known for its steep cliffs, its harsh winds, its endless and ever-changing sand dunes, and its fearless surfers. So we packed our backpacks with SPF 30 sunblock and cameras and prepared ourselves for an athletic spectacle.

When we arrived at the beach, the only people we saw in the choppy waves were wind surfers. But a tent city had been erected in the middle of the beach so I assumed that was the locus of both the Billabong tournament and the hot after-hours action (we’d heard that rock bands played nightly for the duration of the festival). We walked into the wind toward the back of the biggest tent where I was encouraged by the sound of loud music.

When we stepped inside the tent, I thought immediately that we had stumbled upon some secret adolescent rite of passage. Dozens of pre-teen girls held hands in a circle, singing together and performing what looked like belly dancing moves. No one under the tent was older than fourteen or had fewer than two X chromosomes. Pink backpacks and Billabong towels were piled in the sand under the tarp. The girls who weren’t dancing giggled, flung cups of water at each other, or practiced their moves in bathing suits on a stationary surfboard. I felt like we were intruding on some ancient menstruation ritual. “The red tent,” whispered the bbf. Then he dug out his camera.

A Portuguese beach bum wearing a VIP pass quickly hustled us out. “No,” he said. “Just the young ladies.” The event organizers in the merch tents glared at us as we trudged sheepishly away.

Apparently this Billabong event was less of a hardcore surf competition and more of a summer camp meant to instill confidence in pre-teen girls and to make adult American tourists feel like pervs.*

*In fairness to the festival, I think an actual surf tournament took place on the first day, but we had assumed that the major action would occur on the weekend, like church.

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