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 waters 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. Its 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-sos bikini was, after which they took turns measuring their height against someones white ONeil surfboard. They looked to be between 7 years old and 17, though the youngest Im 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.
Whats your name? asked the announcer, as she emerged from the water.
Paige Ortiz. She wrung seawater out of her short braids.
Thats a huge score you got. Howd you do it?
I dont 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 mothers 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 waters 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 wont be possible. Hello Kitty doesnt really give interviews, she said.
Why not? I asked.
She doesnt 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 wasnt 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. Shes Kitty today. She says its soooo hot in there. They have rules as to how long you can be inside the Kitty suit. Its 15 minutes tops, or something. I think shes 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, shed been mobbed by a hundred little girls who were trying to pet her. Kitty! Kitty! Kitty! theyd 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 doesnt 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 dont know, she giggled. Good?