Why Would Anyone Want to “Run Around Nekkid?!”

Part One: Coming of Age… with Nudity

My father sat at the kitchen table, shaking the crease out of his newspaper while nursing his post-dinner coffee.

“Looks like they’ve finally chased off those nekkid hippies out by the bridge — once and for all! They should all put their clothes on and go get a job!”

I sat quietly, picking at my Hamburger Helper. It was 1978. I was fifteen years old. I finally summoned up the courage to sheepishly utter a question, “So, what’s the big deal? Where are the naked people? And why is everyone so angry?”

Wohler Bridge, Russian River, California

I knew damn well what the deal was. I had a paper route back in the day when bundles were dropped at your garage door, ready to be folded, packed into burlap sacks, and delivered to doorsteps by a kid on a bike. The nudies at Wohler Bridge had been front-page news for much of the summer and I had been reading the play-by-play for weeks, stalling the folding regimen long enough to read the rants of angry neighbors. Local residents had gradually inherited a gridlock of so many cars parked along narrow roads otherwise bedecked with pricey country homes in the burgeoning wine country.

My mom piped up, “I read they’re leaving trash behind and urinating in the neighbor’s yards on the way to the beach.”

My mind raced with questions. Did these hippies drive there naked? And who just stops to pee in the neighbor’s bushes when walking down a country road? Such vivid and bizarre images. But for me, much more curious than disgusting. In fact, I was flat out intrigued!

It felt liberating, decadent, and strangely taboo all at the same time.

[To be fair, there was a second nude beach farther up the Russian River that also had a reputation for open air sex. A single resident launched an all-out war on the copulating crazies visible from her plate glass window. That simply inspired the local authorities to get rid of all the nudies in the county in one foul swoop — but we’ll get back to that later.]

Wohler Bridge crosses the Russian River about 12 miles north of Santa Rosa. If you were to look it up on Google maps, you’d see the area is still quite sparsely populated, though today, artsy wineries have largely subsumed the old apple and prune orchards to make way for the fermentation of grapes. I remember sweating in the garage that summer, folding newspapers in stifling heat, scheming about how I might find my way to this magical place on my bicycle to see this spectacle of naked people. Maybe I would even summon up the courage to get naked with them.

Nude hippie life. Photo Credit: The New Yorker

For all intents and purposes, I was a latchkey kid. The youngest of four, my siblings were long out of the house by the time I hit puberty. Shortly thereafter, I discovered I was a closet nudist.

I was seldom brave enough to push my luck when my parents were at work. An unexpectedly early arrival of a parental unit would require me to explain why I was sitting nude in front of the TV. In time, I was old enough to stay home alone when they were gone for the weekend, when I would take giddy delight in doffing my clothes to have the run of the house — stark naked. As six-foot fences were the norm in that part of the world, sometimes I would even walk on the wild side to make a quick dash into the backyard to look after the dog. It felt liberating, decadent, and strangely taboo all at the same time. Was this the dream of every teenage boy, or should I be outing myself to a mental health professional? Regardless, I wasn’t about to ask my parents about my naked obsession. It was clear how they felt about nekkid!

I recall one instance that rendered a good bit of nude at home time while my parents took their trailer out for a long weekend at the coast.

“How was your trip? Did you like the place?” I inquired upon their return.

“The place was fine…” my mom began, but then my dad interrupted,

“…but there were a handful of people runnin’ around nekkid at the end of the beach for most of the weekend. Why do they have to go and wreck things for everyone?”

I tried to envision this beach that surely must have been a mile long. What drew their attention to the naked people in the first place? My parents really weren’t fond of things like walking hand-in-hand in the surf, so it seemed unlikely that they unknowingly wandered into a nude volleyball game. By 1978, bikinis were very much the norm. How close would you have to be to those nekkid people frolicking on the beach to discern whether they were scantily clad, or actually naked? But most of all, what’s the harm of simple nudity on the beach in the first place, if they’re simply minding their own business and soaking up the sun?

Life’s a beach

I don’t have a clear recollection of my response to this trip report, except for the fact that it was becoming increasingly clear that I best well be covered when crossing the hall from the bathroom to my bedroom each morning. At some point around then, I also began sleeping nude, which caused my mom to raise her eyebrows when noticing my bare shoulders peeking out from beneath the covers. She never said a word, while I grew increasingly strategic in positioning the comforter, should she unexpectedly poke her head in the door.

It should be known that my fixation on becoming a home nudist was certainly not a statement of body confidence. On the contrary, I was the personification of that gangly awkward middle-school kid who got beaten up in the hallway simply for the offense of wearing clothes from Sears, accessorized by thick “Coke-bottle” glasses. To this day, every time I see the portrayal of that kid on the Hollywood big screen, I shudder for a moment, resisting the urge to glance over my shoulder, on the lookout for bullies. The thick glasses were part and parcel of a serious vision impairment that greatly inhibited my coordination — or more succinctly, my inability to succeed in anything even remotely athletic. Had there been a school award for The Kid Least Likely to Catch a Ball, I would have had that one in the bag.

Even catching a glimpse of myself naked in the mirror was more rewarding than having to gaze at the reflection of my fully clothed self while brushing my teeth each morning.

Teenagers have a knack for seeking out safe havens in their daily existence of navigating middle-school and high-school, but that didn’t eliminate the requirement to endure two or three rotations of the swimming unit in P.E. Not only was I a horrible swimmer, but every last bit of my gangly-ness was on full display in my ill-fitting swimsuit. To this day, I can’t stand to look at myself in the mirror while wearing swim trunks. I’m certainly not gangly anymore, but I never overcame that self-consciousness regarding my physique. How ironic, then, that my affinity for naked-at-home had become a source of affirmation. Even catching a glimpse of myself — naked — was more rewarding than having to gaze at the reflection of my fully clothed self while brushing my teeth each morning. Something I consider a strange paradox to this day.

By the time I was in high school and in possession of a driver’s license, all the naked fun at Wohler Bridge had come to an end as local politicians legislated social nudity right out of existence — for the entire county! At first, the nekkid hippies were stubborn, organizing petitions and appealing the new anti-nudity laws, but with repeated police raids and subsequent arrests for lewd and lascivious behavior — that was, for simply being naked — the nude beach on the Russian River reverted to its abandoned quiet self, again.

I’m pretty sure my father felt somehow vindicated, if not just relieved.

I lived with my parents, clothed most all the time, until my junior year of college when I moved to the South Bay Area. Shortly thereafter, I met a girl named Charlotte and we began dating. She was nearly two years older than me, and had just graduated from the same school.

Things progressed quickly. We were each the youngest of four, suspecting at the time that we were the only ones in each of our respective families that were brazen enough to have sex outside of marriage. The rules of social engagement had changed quite a lot since the Summer of Love, but we had grown up in households that were governed with care, compassion, and firm guidelines of what shalt not happen under this roof!

It must have been during one of those first dates that we drove out to Santa Cruz to park on the cliffs, watching the waves crash against the rugged shores of the Pacific Ocean. I have a vague recollection that I already knew there were nude beaches in that region, but I hadn’t a clue as to how I would go about finding one. In time, that topic made its way into the obligatory, exploratory, cross-examination young lovers inflict upon one another while staring longingly at the sea.

“I think there’s a nude beach out here someplace. Would you ever do that?” I think my voice was trembling a little.

“Well, I took this class…,” Charlotte led out.

I was already spellbound.

“It was a human sexuality class. You know, one of those easy A courses that knock out a general education requirement.”

Nude beach. Photo credit: ntrsm.com

Charlotte was slender, vivacious, and her deep brown eyes flashed with the passive flirtation of a new relationship. We had each expressed our reticence about getting too serious, too soon, but a twenty-year-old guy is something of a known quantity when a beautiful, young woman starts undressing herself with her own words. She continued,

Sarah and I got to talking and decided to ask the professor if we could do a research project by spending a day at a nude beach.

“My roommate Sarah and I had signed up for the class together. ‘This will be great. We’ll talk about sex for a couple of hours a week and get college credits to boot.’”

I never met Sarah.

“The prof described the term paper assignment early in the semester so we’d have time to research as needed. Most of the other students in the class made predictable choices,” Charlotte elaborated, “A visit to a Planned Parenthood Clinic, the use of contraception amongst college kids. You know. Researchy stuff.”

I was still fixated on the fact that her story was prompted by my question about nude beaches. The outcome seemed inevitable.

“On the way back to the dorm after class, Sarah and I got to talking and decided to ask the professor if we could do a research project by spending a day at a nude beach. We had lots of questions. Are guys walking around with hard-ons? Do people have sex right out there in the open? And what do nudists look like? Are they all like French models and movie stars?”

“So, you and your room-mate went to a nude beach?” I could feel my heart pounding.

“Well… Yeah.” She paused to read my initial reaction before proceeding with a few more details regarding their “research methodology.”

“There’s a newspaper that publishes a guide to all the nude beaches in the Bay Area at the beginning of each summer. We got our hands on a copy and located a place just up the coast called Red, White, and Blue Beach. We found out it was on private property with a guardian at the gate who collects a modest fee and helps keep the riff-raff away.”

She may have said a few more words about the location, or the gatekeeper, or the woman in the old travel trailer who ran a snack bar through the small slider in the door, but my mind was already gone — spinning through a matrix of questions. Would I do that? Would I get a hard-on? We had certainly seen each other naked by then, but how would that dynamic change when getting naked together… outside… in front of God and everybody?

Red, White, and Blue Beach — after the nudists

“Um… so, uh… did you like it? Would you go back?” It was cold and blustery outside on this late-October day. I was pretty sure we wouldn’t be getting naked on any beach today.

“Sure! I’d go back. We only went there once, but we had a really good time.”

I’m pretty sure I was speechless, so she kept talking.

“When we got there, we laid out a blanket, a couple of towels, and pulled out the backgammon board while trying to scope the place out to figure out what happens next. We were both wearing bikinis, which seemed okay as a few others were wearing swimsuits as well, but most everybody else was completely naked, or at least topless. After one game, we glanced at each other, took and a deep breath, and removed our bikini tops. That warmth of the sun on my body felt so good!”

In that moment, an involuntary physical response was providing an answer about whether I might get become aroused on a nude beach.

“After a few minutes of getting used to the sensation of being topless, we removed our bikini bottoms and stuffed our swimsuits into our bags. Seemed we wouldn’t be needing those for the rest of the day. We played a few more rounds of backgammon, ate lunch, ran in the surf, read and snoozed a bit — you know, all the stuff you usually do on the beach. The naked part felt totally normal after a few minutes. No sand in my bikini bottoms. No need to keep adjusting my top. And no wet, clingy swimsuit stuck to my body after playing in the ocean. And we agreed that the sun all over our bodies felt really awesome. You know… it was a nice day.”

I had vivid images of the entire event playing on an endless loop in my head. “Was that it? Have you ever gone back? Did you write the paper?”

“We never went back. Our curiosity was satiated, and when I told the dude I was dating at the time about the whole thing, he thought it was all a little weird and made it clear he wasn’t getting naked on a beach any time soon. So nope. That was it.”

I still had so many questions. “What did the teacher think of “your research?” Did you get a good grade?”

“Ha ha ha… We got an A! Actually, there really weren’t many surprises. People on the beach look pretty much like people always look like on the beach, and pretty soon, you hardly notice anyone is naked. But there were a couple funny stories that sort of summed the whole thing up…”

They gave us a compliment that totally caught us off guard… “You two would look dynamite in bikinis!”

“Yeah? What was that?”

“I think we were playing backgammon again when this guy stopped by, noting that he hadn’t seen us around here before. He started making small-talk about board games, insider knowledge about a few of the locals, and a general orientation to the nude beach community. That’s when we learned that eye-contact is sort of a big deal when you’re talking to a naked guy.”

I think I laughed aloud. Nervously, I suspect.

“He pointed to a tent to let us know where he was camped out for the weekend, and that we were welcome to stop by if we “needed anything.” We were a little creeped out by that, but the real takeaway for the day came from two other guys who stopped by just before we left.”

Once again, I was at a loss for words.

“They were friendly as well. The said ‘hello’, made small talk for a moment, then gave us a compliment that totally caught us off guard. ‘You know?’ they said, ‘You two would look dynamite in bikinis!’ That turned out to be the focal point of our term paper.”

In the ensuing years, Charlotte and I would marry, have three kids, a dog or two, and ultimately, come to share an affinity for nude beaches, though that took longer than one might expect.

At first, casual nudity simply became common around the house, but amazingly enough, it took me, that post-adolescent-gangly-closet-nudist, several years to work up the nerve to get naked in public. (You can read about that in Part Two)

By now, we’ve visited nude beaches, camps, resorts, and boutique clothing-optional hotels — you name it — on six continents. It’s a critical element of our travel planning, no matter our final destination or the intermediary stops. “Really, you’re telling me there’s not a legal nude beach in Morocco? How are we going to make this itinerary work?”

Our happy place… a nude beach in France

As I was contemplating writing this piece in the car today, I mentioned the potential title to Charlotte, asking her what she would say when queried, “Why would anyone want to run around nekkid??!”

[Naturism reminds] us to appreciate the intrinsic beauty of the other’s physicality, to value the vulnerability implicit of physical and mental nakedness, and to follow the meanderingly naked path off the beaten track.

“Huh. Good question.” She responded. “I mean, who wants to bother with a swimsuit? And the sand? And the wet nylon? Just so unnecessary. And then miss out on the warmth of the sun all over your body? It just feels good.”

It just feels good? It that it? There must be more to it than that. My brain wrestled with her response amidst a collage of reflections of all our naturist doings over thirty-some years of marriage.

Actually, there’s quite a lot more to it than that, which will likely become the main fodder for the next chapter of our Meandering Naturist story, but in case you need a spoiler to entice you to watch for Part Two, I suspect it will go something like this…

Naturism has been a core value throughout the decades of our monogamous relationship, ever reminding us to appreciate the intrinsic beauty of the other’s physicality, to value the vulnerability implicit of physical and mental nakedness, and to follow the meanderingly naked path off the beaten track into the places where real people live, love, work, and play at the far ends of the earth. I’m sure we could have accomplished much of that with our clothes on, but there’s no question that our unrelenting passion for nakedness has enlivened our senses in that relentless, impassioned desire to feel fully alive.

I would stop short of suggesting that communal or social nudity does that for anybody and/or everybody, but it’s certainly done that for us. I can hardly imagine what our lives would have looked like had it not been for our determination to experience life while running around nekkid.

So many more stories to be told — on another day.

(To be continued…)

COMING NEXT: Running Around Nekkid… Kids and All!

PART TWO: A young naturist couple “figures it out

Set for publication on Sunday, January 3rd

Married, father of three, musician, dog-lover, foodie, wine snob. And OH! We like naked travel. www.meanderingnaturist.com

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