Lettin it All Hang Out
I am not a nudist, but I decided to try the Fifth Annual “Bare Buns Fun Run” advertised at the Nude Wreck Beach in Canada last July. The innocuous word “fun” seemed to balance the more threatening words, “bare” and “buns.”
I parked near the nude beach at a University of British Columbia parking lot. I eyed the people around me, trying to understand what would motivate these “naturists”—those who disrobe in natural settings. With clothes on, they looked very normal, carrying small coolers and beach towels. They were regular people, mostly middle-aged. I got out of my car and walked the path to the beach, slowly.
Prior to the that day, my vision of a nude beach inexplicably involved 1970s airbrushed images of people so beautiful and proud of their sculpted bodies that they had no choice but to throw off all their clothes and prance around playfully.
In reality, the scene resembled something more like the shower room at the 62nd Street YMCA. Acres of exposed mounds of flesh were immediately visible as I stepped onto the beach. If this scene were a picture on a billboard, it would be a Public Service Announcement with the caption, “There is absolutely nothing sexy about public nudity.”
The sight of one average person without clothes can often take all the fun out of nudity. It seemed that the sight of a beach full of average people flapping freely in the breeze could lead to hours of therapy.
I pushed on, even though it was still a mystery why someone would want to run down a beach without clothes in the harsh light of day. One minute I was in the safety of my car, laughing at the crazy nudists, the next moment I was among them.
I signed a paper to participate in the run and was handed a souvenir towel, which I immediately folded tightly with the logo hidden. And then came the moment of reckoning. I could tell the nudists thought I was not one of them. It might have been because I was fully dressed.
Though I tried to observe how other nudists arrived at their natural state, I could not find anyone in the act of removing clothing. It was as if they were a different species, immediately transformed when they stepped onto the beach. Real nudists don’t even need to undress.
To me, now, undressing seemed more intimate than standing bare-assed to the world. I could picture myself naked; I just was having a hard time getting there. So I got as low as I could to the ground. I sheltered myself behind a small log. And I finally did it.
I waited to feel “exhilarated” and “free,” as the naturalist newsletter had promised. Instead, I felt cold, vulnerable, and vaguely paralyzed. I worried about my nudist neighbor’s cigarette ash; I worried about sunburn—I was not in the mood to liberally apply sunscreen; and I couldn’t help but wonder if the people looking on from their boats had good binoculars.
As I continued to consider all the reasons why clothes are good, a man came over and set up his synthesizer keyboard nearby. He sat his bare ass on a portable plastic stool, faced the water, and began to play a medley of songs you might find in a beginner piano book, such as “Lost in Love” by Air Supply; and a simple version of Captain & Tennille’s, “Muskrat Love.” This was to be the soundtrack of my first official public nudity. Oddly, it did fit with my disturbing 1970s pre-nude expectations.
However, I wasn’t, to say the least, prancing, or playing, or even mingling. I was sitting still, trying not to be seen, swiping furtive glances at those who walked down the beach. It was like observing something out of a medical textbook brought to life and put on a public beach with so many shapes and sizes. A couple in their fifties played frisbee near the shore, their parts flip flopping against gravity. But there was no shame.
A man walked by wearing a shirt that covered half of his ample stomach. The lower half was bare and he was not wearing any pants. I instinctively looked away and then remembered that it was all perfectly fine. Even people who look like deranged flashers were welcome and accepted.
A “butt-painting” contest was held before the race. A scene with a dolphin on one cheek was popular. Another popular work of art was an elaborate tiger encompassing both of a man’s striped cheeks. I wondered what factors are considered when a person chooses an appropriate butt image. And I guessed that the picture might need to fit the canvass.
After those with the “winning butts” had a chance to bask in their nude glory, a crowd began to gather at the shore for the start of the race. I watched from my log, still a little too frightened to stand up, much less walk, and even much less—run.
The other nude runners stood confidently. The group was smiling and talking as if they were at some relaxed, clothed function. Some even looked bored as they stood and waited for the send-off.
“Two minutes to start. Come down if you’re going to run.”
I stared from my log in a trance. Then, I noticed a few people watching from the sidelines—and they were not nude! They were a regular clothed family no doubt out for a weekend trip to the beach when they had unexpectedly come across this sea of bare bodies. “Wait, wait, I am one of you!” I wanted to cry out, but they could not hear me.
With less than one minute to go, I stood up, bent my head to the ground and stiffly walked as fast as possible toward the middle of the group. My arms were plastered securely on each side of me to help shield those on the sidelines from a clear view. I wanted to fit in and be one of them, but I wished the organizers of the race could have thought to provide some nice cozy robes for us to wear for our walk down to the starting line.
Once with the crowd, I tried to hide behind a large woman wearing a jogging bra, and of course, no pants. I hoped she could provide a barrier, but she only smiled and said “hi” as she moved out of my way. The race officials scurried around before the start of the race, prompting one nudist to check his watch and speculate that we were “running on nudist time.”
Then we were off. About 60 nudists began running down the beach like overfed cattle chased from a forbidden pasture. I watched the body parts of the people in front of me jiggle and move defiantly as if independent of their owners.
As we bounded across the wet muddy sand, the group became thinner. I noticed a young blond surfer nudist with a finely toned butt. When the group angled around a break point, the surfer took off and sprinted into the ocean, singing, in a high octave that would cause all birds and other wildlife in the vicinity to flee, “Welcome to the Hotel California…”
Nobody stopped to see if he was fine, for, as I learned, each nudist must save himself.
First I ran with fear, but then I began to relax. I concentrated on my breathing and tried to keep my pace steady. Then I spotted her—that older woman wearing the jogging bra—and she was outrunning me. The jogging bra lady had to be 10 years older than me, yet she effortlessly glided across the sand. She also had that smug, confident nudist air about her.
I needed to pass her, so I made a shelf for each of my boobs with my forearms and forced my legs to move harder and faster. I came up to her aging butt and then sprung ahead of her toward the final stretch. I was close enough to see the finish line. I looked back and saw her try to pick up some speed. Again, I pushed on and put more distance between us. I felt good; so good that I forgot I was nude! It all began to feel fine. I was nude on a beach and I was not concerned. I smiled at the nudists on either side of me. We were nude and we were free. Maybe this was a fun run after all.
Then, a wrinkled naked man with a white beard and clipboard was angling toward me shouting “Second Place for Women, 3.5 km!” He was motioning to a person with a video camera. A race official corralled me into a winner’s circle and informed me that a photo was required.
I suddenly remembered the waiver I signed when I paid for the race. It was something about how I had hereby given permission for the Wreck Beach Society to use any pictures, videotapes, or other record of my participation in this event for their “legitimate purposes.” What was a legitimate purpose, anyway?
Oh, my. How quickly fear returns.
“No photo!” I literally screamed while dodging boobs, substantial thighs, and sagging stomachs toward the safety of the dry sand where my clothes were waiting. For the first time that day, I truly did not care what anybody thought of me. I just wanted to be wearing a shirt and some pants and sitting in my car with the doors locked—the traditional anti-naturist environment.
Diana Wurn is a freelance writer living in Bellingham, WA.