The Portuguese summer is usually associated with beautiful weather and a sun that seemingly never sets. However, my experience of this incredible place is forever based around a cluster of misconstrued memories and a collection of photographs of the people I met. My month in the small town of Figeuira Da Foz (3 hours north of the famed Peniche) is best summed as a sort of chaotic beauty filled with picturesque locations and some of the most welcoming people I have ever come across.
These people while welcoming are not without their own personal troubles. The country as a whole is currently enduring one of the worst financial crisis in European history – with some experts comparing it to that of the Greek Economic Downfall. A massive decline in the once fruitful boat building industry has lead to the closure and abandonment of countless warehouses and industrial buildings. Walking through the city centre one gets an eerie sense of despair from the rundown tiled walls of this once great town. However, when talking to locals in a kind of broke down conversation comprising mostly of hand signals and smiles, you get a sense that they wouldn’t be anywhere else. Even in a situation that I cannot even fathom – these people will give a complete stranger all the time in the world; whether it’s to show them around or simply have a conversation. The main thing that all locals agreed upon was that the summertime crowds are the saviours of an economy. With bars and cafes full it’s a quick breath of relief to families who at any other time of the year struggle to make ends meet.
The final week of summer plays host to the ‘Gliding Barnacles Surf, Music & Wine Festival’ run by the self-titled Gliding Barnacles Gentleman’s Club. The name of the club itself is a complete fallacy; by no means was this event limited to a male-only attitude. It was quite the contrary, and this was a point pushed hard by organizers. The unofficial face of the club, Eurico Goncalves, has an innate ability to make everyone he comes across feel as though they are family. This ‘family’ feeling was present throughout the whole festival – families inviting competitors to a home cooked meal and bar owners putting aside whole areas amidst their busiest time of year. The affability of the festival extended far beyond just the locals – musicians swapping drums for surfboards and surfers swapping boards for guitars and cameras. No better shown than through the 300-400 strong crowd that packed into an old, abandoned Automobile workshop to support and get down to a string of bands and enjoy the produce of local winemakers.
From the point of a 19 year old Australian it’s quite a surreal experience to find yourself drinking red wine listening to Portuguese punk music – but at the same time it is one that I would drop everything to be a part of again.
With the growth in acceptance and popularity of alternative surfboards in the surf community worldwide, it was fitting that the surfing was based around the use of traditionally styled logs. Run throughout the daytime of the festival it was more of a celebration than a competition. There were no points given and every wave caught was met with equal cheers both from the water and the rock wall. By the last day of the festival, the surf had increased remarkably much to the delight of all the surfers involved. The call was made that traditional logs were no longer a requirement; anything from finless stingers to fish-shaped quads was seen jumping from the rock wall to make the most of the conditions. In front of a 300 strong crowd and live band the 16 surfers on an array of alternative boards – put on a display of a pure love affair in the water.
So, to Eurico and the rest of the Gentleman’s Club; I and everyone else that partook in your festival thank you. Thank you for celebrating a culture that doesn’t necessarily always get celebrated. Thank you for welcoming us as if we were all family and thank you for showing that even the most beautiful things can come from such chaos.