As we find ourselves waking in the dark with winter now truly upon us, we can’t help but reminisce about Cabedelo beach where we spent early September in the hazy sunshine and warmer waters at the Gliding Barnacles Surf Festival.
But for all the blissful tranquillity, our initial experience on first arrival, was one of unexpected, wonderful chaos ... oh what fun it was!
It’s midnight and we’d just arrived at the location in the vain hope of finding something to eat, and hopefully a drink to take the edge off what had been a hectic few hours travel. Picture the scene - approaching a derelict industrial warehouse plastered in graffiti, blaring with loud, loud music. Half-cut revellers spilling out of its cavernous doorway, laughing and dancing as they make their way to the water’s edge of a moonlit industrial harbour, beers spilling everywhere. We’re not thinking about sustenance now. Like moths to a flame, we’re following that well-recognized thunderous rumble of a live band.
The venue lacks a roof, windows or any doors, but it does have a cocktail bar and a thumping sound system. The band are firing out a perfect mess of The Ramones and The Beach Boys and the energy would put a posse of coke addled Duracell bunnies to shame. The crowd is an eclectic mix as the music and they pogo and swing each other around in perfect harmony. Everybody’s moving, everybody’s smiling, everybody’s having a good time. Centre stage is the coolest, most charismatic, smoothest mover of a resident-host-hype-man-go-go-dancer we've ever witnessed.
It's hard to describe what we were experiencing, a perfect mash-up of chaos and unadulterated joy. Beautifully encapsulated by the moment that the “Fugly” ring out the last chord of their set, our mature, yet majestic dancer leaps from the stage and crowd surfs his way to the back of the room, his white rimmed shades never slipping out of place once. What we just experienced was entirely unexpected, but we liked it, we liked it a lot. The renowned Talking Heads Concert Documentary ‘Stop Making Sense’, adopted by the festival as its mantra, now made absolute sense. This is how we’d spend the next few days lapping up all that Gliding Barnacles had to offer.
It turns out the dude with the dance moves is local legend Jose Capote (@sir_capote_barnacle), he serves food, drinks booze, dances with the bands, smokes fags, stage dives, smiles, laughs, chats and effortlessly emits the Gliding Barnacles vibe. He’s a one-man party, a good time on legs. When we grow up we want to be like Jose.
Arriving back to our accommodation after 3am, with ears ringing and big grins slapped upon our faces, we couldn’t wait to see what the next few days held in store.
We rise to mid-morning sunshine and the view of surfable waves from our balcony. Oh yes! We head back to the festival site and meet up with our friends from Polyola at their demo stand. We catch up over coffee and then take in what the daytime festivities have to offer
It’s a beautiful scene, we’re right on the beach with sun-scorched sofas scattered all over the place, occupied by surfers and festival-goers alike. There’s a small marketplace for food and drink. Hand-crafted goods to treat yourself to and a couple of mobile bars. At the entrance of the jetty looking out onto the horizon is a stage with live music going throughout the day. Just to the left, an old upright piano and even a mobile barber and a tattooist if you fancied freshening up your look. It soon becomes clear to see the appeal in the surreal.
It's midday and the ‘Expression Sessions’ are well under way. We grab a sofa halfway along the jetty and watch some of Europe's most skilled longboarders carve it up on the waves in front of us. They’re dropping into waves just yards away from where we’re sat - a surf spectators dream! Rather than going for the standard and exhausted surf competition format, Gliding Barnacles invite entrants to take part in sessions of serious fun rather than serious competition. After all that’s what surfing is right? Fun! It was certainly a blast to watch.
It was great to also witness some badass surfing from our home shores’ very own Beth Leighfield (@beth_leighfield) and hear about the adventures she and Bella Bunce (@bellarosebunce) had been on. Two fantastic ambassadors for the very best that our UK surf culture has to offer. Sadly we missed the opportunity to see the UK’s own Billy Dingley (@billydingley) flexing his talents both in the water and in the shaping bay, but Billy’s own Instagram posts add further credence to our views of the festival.
Stoked on what we’ve just witnessed in the water and solid sets of waves continuing to roll in, we can hold back no more and grab three boards from the Polyola quiver; a yellow railed 9'5 Crème Fat Cat log, a 7’0 Polen Fast Slice single fin and a white railed performance longboard. And man, they go so well! We particularly bonded with the Crème Fat Cat in those Cabedelo waves (there was much jostling between us for water time with it!).
When we weren’t in the water, you’d find us at the Polyola demo stand talking boards, eco chemistry and what the future holds for sustainable surfboard design. It was so good to see the queues of open-minded and eco-curious people taking the demo boards out for a slide. They’d return an hour later with smiling faces, accounts of how well the boards had performed and what a fun session they'd just had. For most it was the first time they’d been up close and personal with an ‘eco board’, or even encountered boards with any sustainable surf credentials, but for all it was a positive experience, some dropping orders on a custom build of their own there and then.
As the evening draws in and darkness starts to fall, silhouetted surfers bob in the line-up eeking out the last droplets of light for a few final waves. We make our way back to the derelict boathouse, take in some more live music for a while, then head over to the live art venue, where DJ’s are soundtracking the sites of performance street art, photography and sculpture. We head home in the early hours and get set for another day of ‘not making sense’ tomorrow. Rad!
The sun is shining and the air is warm, the vibe is set to chill. You talk, you laugh, you surf, you drink, you dance and you crash. Then you do it all over again. This is a true celebration of surfing and Portuguese surf culture. Grassroots, unexploited and authentic, the festival connects us through our passion, love, creativity and the fun that surfing brings. On the closing day, the organisers put on a barbecue with free sardine sandwiches for all, fish flipping by ‘Sir Capote Barnacle’ of course.
Some things that really stood out to us from what we typically experience at festivals and events elsewhere:
- There was no money-capitalising corporate agenda.
- Parking in your campervan was free, with designated sheltered parking bays for you to set out your hammock and make it home.
- There was a total lack of barriers and security staff, just a free and easy atmosphere where everyone was treated with respect and trusted to look out for one another.
- The daytime events were free and welcome to all. Entrance to the evening live music sessions were less than ten euros a night.
- There were so many occasions for the potential to rip people off that would’ve been leaped upon anywhere else – to make people pay through the nose and cash in on a captive audience, but this seemed to be avoided at all costs. This was about celebrating the surfing community at large and serving it with integrity.
Is there anywhere else in the world we’d rather have been? Not at all!
See you next year GB (@glidingbarnacles)
Pics: Paul Martin @twonames