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Hello Surfer 

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One after the other, at the urging of a giant cat, the little girls ran into the ocean. They loped into the waves clutching surfboards. On the shoreline, five teams of girls had formed. They stood in lines anxiously waiting their turn. Waves swelled, peaked and frothed over, turning the surfers under. Tiny arms paddled. Tiny legs kicked. It was the first day of the Hello Kitty Boardfest in Huntington Beach, and the girls had been at the water’s edge since the early morning hours, taking surf clinics, learning tips from super girl surfer Holly Beck. Now, in the late afternoon hours, they were getting their first taste of real competition.

“Nice!” boomed the announcer, pointing to one girl in Team Blue. “I think that may be her second wave.” One girl tagged in, another tagged out. The crowd cheered. “It’s great to see all the moms. When I was your age,” the announcer said, “I remember the boys coming out with their dads to cheer them on.” In between runs, the girls stood around in various degrees of undress: swimsuit, swimsuit and wetsuit, swimsuit and wetsuit half on, wetsuit and T-shirt, towel over wetsuit. They clustered in tight circles for earnest discussions about the waves, the water temperature, their flip-flops, how cute so-and-so’s bikini was, after which they took turns measuring their height against someone’s white O’Neil surfboard. They looked to be between 7 years old and 17, though the youngest I’m told was 5.

Sometimes natural talent shined through. One little girl in an orange bathing suit, barely bigger than her board, skimmed the waves like a waterbug.

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“What’s your name?” asked the announcer, as she emerged from the water.

“Paige.”

“Paige what?”

“Paige Ortiz.” She wrung seawater out of her short braids.

“That’s a huge score you got. How’d you do it?”

“I don’t know.”

“You had your game face on, though,” he said. Paige shrugged. No biggie. A few feet away, the sea spit out yet another surfer girl. She was chubbier than the rest and dragged her board behind her like an albatross. Gasping, she leaned against her mother’s shoulder. Another girl came over to console her; together they dug their feet into the sand.

Back on land, tented booths and a long boardwalk had been set up stretching to the water’s edge. People sifted through Hello Kitty paraphernalia, signed up for Hello Kitty credit cards and cell phone service. Little girls bounced on inflatable trampolines and drooled over a fully customized Hello Kitty Airstream trailer. Look! You could nuke a burrito in a Hello Kitty microwave oven. Look! You could pee in a Hello Kitty toilet.

Earlier in the week, I had wondered about this whole Hello Kitty surf business.

I mean, did cats even like the water? “Can I schedule an interview with Hello Kitty?”

I asked one of the spokespeople.

“Unfortunately that won’t be possible. Hello Kitty doesn’t really give interviews,” she said.

“Why not?” I asked.

“She doesn’t have a mouth.”

“So then how does she speak?” (Or eat? Or lick?)

“Kitty,” sighed the spokeswoman, “speaks from her heart.”

Of course Hello Kitty wasn’t properly a kitty. Wandering past the rock-climbing wall, I ran into another staffer — in kittydom, they were legion. Tamra pointed out the girl who would don the cat suit: the giant white cat head, the furry paws, the lavender dress. “See that girl with the bun?” said Tamra. “She’s Kitty today. She says it’s soooo hot in there. They have rules as to how long you can be inside the Kitty suit. It’s 15 minutes tops, or something. I think she’s going in soon.” The Girl Who Would Be Kitty passed us with a grimace. She fanned herself with a pink propeller fan. A few hours earlier, she’d been mobbed by a hundred little girls who were trying to pet her. “Kitty! Kitty! Kitty!” they’d screamed, clutching at her fur like zombies. The entire swarming process began anew as Kitty made her second trek across the sand.

Soon, Holly Beck, a few other pro and aspiring-pro surfer women, and the teams of little girls were called onto a stage for prizes. A pink Hello Kitty surfboard was raffled off. “Kitty, are your paws dexterous enough to pull out a raffle ticket?” the announcer quipped. “Ladies and gentlemen, Hello Kitty doesn’t do a lot of talking. Lots of sign language. Lots of purring.” Tiny Paige Ortiz, whose slick surfing scored an 8.33 out of a possible 10, was voted MVP.

“How does it feel, Paige?” the announcer asked, handing her the microphone.

“I don’t know,” she giggled. “Good?”

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