Actually… things are getting better for naked people

On the beach at Cap d'Agde

On the beach at Cap d’Agde

It’s easy to reminisce about the good ol’ days, when local nudist clubs were thriving in America, when naturist ethical mores were higher, and people were just more laid back about the naked people on the beach. You know, back before the internet.

As a 50-something male, I have pined over the fact that I was born a bit too late to enjoy the “golden days of naturism.” We like to believe that things were better before people became so uptight and paranoid with a desire to legislate every possibly questionable behavior out of existence. While there’s some truth in that, (another rant for another day) I would have to say that things are getting significantly better for naked people. More complicated, perhaps, but better.

From Ile du Levant, c. 1961

From Ile du Levant, c. 1961

My inspiration for making such a bold statement is largely a reaction to having read Stephen L. Harp’s recent book, Au Naturel: Naturism, Nudism, and Tourism in Twentieth-Century France. I fear he won’t get much press outside of academic circles, as even the Kindle edition is really expensive. But given the fact that I’ve spent so much energy over the years touting the naturist glories of France, I thought this would be well worth the investment. And it was.

Harp spends a lot of time setting up the story as he traces the roots of naturism back to early twentieth-century Germany and France. In short, it was a radical movement, embraced by only a few, and held in contempt by most. The early leaders worked tirelessly to convince the government (and the masses) that, along with a diet that restricts meat, alcohol, tobacco, and anything else that tastes good, that direct exposure to the sun will be make you healthy.

A vintage postcard from Cap d'Agde

A vintage postcard from Cap d’Agde

There were various coalitions in those early naturist movements, including a few pioneers in the US, but it’s worth noting that much of what they were fighting for back then would be considered more conservative than the average swimwear you see on just about any beach today. (Especially European beaches – home of the Speedo!) The requirement of le minimum was typical, meaning that while breasts and chests might be exposed, genitalia still needed to be concealed. Of course, there were those who would push the boundaries for full nudity, but they were the daring ones. It would be the early 1960s before people really started getting naked on French beaches. That’s scarcely fifty years ago.

The early days on Ile du Levant

The early days on Ile du Levant

What changed the narrow minds of the masses? Two things; tourism and sex!

My followers know that we’re very keen on Ile du Levant, as we try to make even a brief visit during our annual naturist pilgrimage to France. And I have carefully avoided mentioning that we have twice visited the famous naked city, Cap d’Agde, as the reputation among naturists in the know is dicey at best. “Oh, you’re those kind of naked people!?!”

No. Actually, we’re not. But interestingly enough, when I tell somebody from the US that we enjoy naturist vacations in France, if they know anything about the topic at all, their first question is, “Oh, do you go to that big naked city on the Mediterranean? What’s the name?” And if they’re really in the know, “Aren’t there swingers there?”

What I found most informative about Harp’s history of French naturism was that there has been a consistent pattern over the past hundred years when it comes to humans getting naked. In very general terms, it goes something like this:

  • People were looking for a place to get naked and they found Ile du Levant. The tradition grew until it was no longer possible to mandate, let alone enforce “acceptable behavior,” until eventually, some of the naked people decided to push the boundaries of sexuality. Between nudity and sex, tourism exploded, and this little island became an international destination until the authorities cracked down and a better option materialized.
  • REPEAT: but fill in Cap d’Agde
  • REPEAT: but fill in Florida
  • REPEAT: but fill in any number of “naturist places” that begin with the best of intentions, but at the end of the day, people come to spend their naked dollars (euros, francs) or they don’t. Money speaks louder than an imposed sense of morality.

The “AH HA” moment for me was not that naturism caught on in Europe simply because Europeans are more open minded and free-spirited, but in nearly every case, the right to get naked followed some initiative of commercial development. “Turn these marsh wetlands into a place to get naked, and people will come by the thousands!” Simple supply and demand.

A sea of nakedness at Cap d'Agde

A sea of nakedness at Cap d’Agde

And sure enough, we are seeing similar trends today, even in the US, with offerings like the The Big Nude Boat and some of the Florida resorts that have simply abandoned the guise of what so many of us hold dear as holistic naturism to cater to those with more hedonistic tendencies. The assumption is that if we let people believe that sex might be related to nudity, that the public at large will completely flip out. But if this article in the Huffington Post (What Really Goes On Inside Nudist Resorts) isn’t enough evidence, the only people who are not connecting those dots – at least in the US of A, are the naked people. By and large, the average guy on the street has already made up his mind.

Am I condoning places that advertise themselves as naturist/nudist destinations only as a guise for the crazy sex dens everyone is leering and jeering about? ABSOLUTELY NOT! Am I shunning my commitment to holistic, non-sexual naturism as a truly meaningful way to enjoy life? Again, I say no. But as a fellow blogger put it so succinctly, (Sex and the Conservative Nudist) we are doing a disservice to our own credibility if we refuse to view nude recreation through the eyes of the public at large.

Naked luxury at Cap d'Agde

Naked (concrete) luxury at Cap d’Agde

And to be sure, the Millennials and their younger cousins are growing up in a different world than the pioneers of naturism, with different ideals about sex, nudity, religion, marriage; all salted with a sense of paranoia instilled by a generation of helicopter parents. But amidst it all, I’m sitting naked on the porch of a Hawaiian yurt bantering about nudity. While some of the old nudist camps have quietly disappeared, there is a greater variety of opportunity for people to get naked than ever before… all over the world. And on the day of this writing, people are taking to the streets with the #freethenipple campaign – a war that’s already been won in New York City. That’s a long country mile from requiring le minimum on a beach in the South of France just a few decades ago.

Maybe the Millennials will help us all sort out some of the sexual hang-ups of the past. My guess is that, as in the past, supply and demand will even things out. As long as there are people who embrace holistic nudity, – whatever that means – there will be places to do that. As long as there are people who want to push that boundary, there will be a market for that as well.

How is that different than anything else that’s trending in the world right now?

A POST SCRIPT to my readers in France: Harp goes on to talk about CHM Montilivet and the other resorts on the Aquitaine as well as those in Provence and in the Ardèche, noting that these places have largely held true to the early naturist core values, while at the same time, benefiting from the local government’s desire to increase tourism. As long time patrons at La Jenny, we are most grateful for that. No such phenomenon has yet to occur in the US.

Photos for this post were found on the internet. If I used your photo without permission, let me know and I’ll change it out.

The Beat Goes On at Kehena Beach (Hawaii)

IMG_1382We’re just a little to young too have been hippies. Missed it by less than a decade, though it may well be in my gene pool. My older brother had plenty of stories about the Haight and Ashbury, and even a visit to the Fillmore to see Janis Joplin while paint splotches on an overhead projector created psychedelic images on the walls. And I alluded to my hippy naturist tendencies in a previous post, when the nudies took over a secluded swimming hole just a few miles from town, much to my father’s dismay.

IMG_1358If there were such a thing as a time machine that could crunch the last forty years into one collective, surreal, clothing-optional experience, that would probably be a visit to Kehena Beach about twenty miles outside of Hilo on the big island of Hawaii – where it seems the clock didn’t exactly stop in 1969, but just kept spinning in circles.

IMG_0132I have already ranted about what a shame it is that a place with the perfect year-round climate for nudity is quite overrun with “prudity.” I suspect the main force behind that has less to do with laid-back islanders, and more to do with hordes of tourists coming from the mainland who bring all their naked taboos along in their beach bags. But it seems few of those tourists find their way far enough off the beaten track to set a naked foot on the beautiful black sand of Kehena Beach.

The black sand of Kehena Beach

The black sand of Kehena Beach

We have visited twice in the past week; once on a quiet weekday when there were perhaps two dozen people on the beach, about half of them naked. But also on Sunday, which is… special. This is when the weekly drum circle fires up around noon, and the local “family” comes out in a way much like I remember the monthly church picnics when I was a kid – sort of. There must have been at least 100 people on the beach, where the far end was supposedly where the naked people would congregate. But in reality, only one out of five people were opting for total “disclothesure,” scattered among the clothed and the topless, as if nothing was less than ordinary except that nothing was ordinary.

The drum circle itself is renowned; (See link on YouTube) an improvised community of locals who bring a wide array of instruments to create an endless loop – and I mean that in a good way – of syncopations and cross rhythms, while a guitarist jams, a trumpet player croons, or a guy on an Indian flute seeks out a scale that works. For all the rest, you can let your imagine run as freely as the children playing in the waves. As our new friend Mike, a main player in the drum circle put it, the common decorum is mellow. There was nothing there I wouldn’t want my children to see, though you may have the opportunity to explain a few distinctive odors wafting through the air. But indeed, mellow it is.

Pearl the duck

Pearl the duck

Looking for hipsters out to find self-realization? They are there. Out to find real hippies that maybe overdid it in their youths? They are there. Looking to find that guy who can do back flips and hand stands in the crashing waves? He is there. Looking to find families in swimsuits frolicking in the surf? They are there. Looking to find families without swimsuits frolicking in the surf? They are there. Looking to find a few middle-agers who are feeling just a bit out of their element, but thoroughly enjoying the show? We were there too. Particularly fascinated with the kid who brought along his pet duck, who happened to be incredibly adept at body surfing with his family. (The duck, that is, not the little kid.)

IMG_6380Given the sense of community  – at least on Sunday afternoons – at this remote little paradise, I was reluctant to blog about it at all, except for the fact that the Friends of Kehena Beach maintain their own website about the place which turns up just about anytime you go searching for nude beaches in Hawaii. To our knowledge, while there may be secret little coves suitable for nude sunbathing all over the islands, Kehena on the big island, and Little Beach on Maui are about the only two places were you can confidently drop your clothes and know you won’t be the only one naked on the beach.

IMG_1355Not into the time warp thing? Don’t go on a Sunday. A Friday morning visit offered the freedom to chill out on the stunning black sands while a decidedly mixed crowd came and went on this late summer day. If you’re looking for a dose of genuine, laid-back Hawaii, you’d be hard pressed to find a better place than here.

Ridin’ the waves at Little Beach, Maui

IMG_0080So after years of reading about it, we finally made it to Maui and paid our first visit to Little Beach. (also known as Secret Beach,) a glorious little spot that is clothing optional in the best sense of the word. There were about as many clothed people as nude, (all co-existing without a care) and a male to female ration of maybe 70/30, but it never really felt unbalanced. Nor did we experience the voyeurs some people have ranted about on TripAdvisor, though our neighboring, naked guy neighbor did seem a little gawky.

What I found most peculiar about the day was getting there. On such a beautiful island, where the climate is so idyllic and the beaches so plentiful, this was the only location we could come up with where we could count on there being an option for nudity at the end of the road. But the road getting there is like driving through the expansive resort villages near Disney World, with golf courses, neatly manicured gardens, and super-luxury hotels that would have used up our entire travel budget in a single night’s stay. (Geez – EVERYthing in Hawaii is SO expensive!) We kept watching the GPS as we made our way through the labyrinth of neatly paved roads crowded with tour vans and mega-expensive cars. Really? Five miles from the nude beach? Four miles? Two miles?

IMG_0110Then suddenly, Luxuryville ended, the road narrowed, and we started seeing signs for Makena State Park. And there we were, parking at the State Park (Free!), making our way past the food truck, and trying to figure out how far we’d be lugging all our stuff for the day given the various accounts on the internet about the “treacherous” walk to Little Beach.

IMG_0071Treacherous it was not – except for making our way across the blazing hot sand of Big Beach, which involved about a five minute walk to the other end of the beach, where we had to scramble up a few rocks (two minutes) then make our way down the easy path (another two minutes) to Little Beach. Suffice it to say, we’ve worked a lot harder to find our way to much lesser beaches.

According to the locals, it was unusually hot and humid on this mid-August day, and even under the beach umbrella we were suffering from the heat. Thankfully, the giant hot tub called the Pacific Ocean lay just a few meters away. The surf was rough – maybe more so than usual, given the distant passage of tropical storm Hilda – but the beach is typically notorious for its undertow which has swept more than a few people over into the rocks over the years.  My lovely research assistant (who loves playing in the ocean, but hates cold water) got quite a ways out to dive into the waves, frolicking there for a long time until a boogie boarder just a bit farther out reported a shark sighting. Also not unusual, we hear, but a little scary for those who wish to keep all of their appendages intact.

photoNaked or not, Little Beach has the reputation of one of the most beautiful on Maui. We would concur on the basis of what we saw. The question is – why are there so few places to get naked in Hawaii? We found Maui to have such a laid-back attitude about nearly every aspect of life, except for the getting naked part.

We stayed in a small guest house in Lahaina, where we sat pining away in our swimsuits or cover-ups as a variety of surfers and beach combers made their way up and down the beach. Almost without fail, males wore long, over-the-knee swim trunks, and females wore breast hugging (if not enhancing) and butt exposing bikinis, leaving very little to the imagination. The irony to me is that on a nude beach, men and women are both naked and equal. On every other beach in Hawaii, it seems to me women are expected to “show off their goods” while men are modestly covered in long trunks, and as often as not, a t-shirt as well. Given all the rhetoric about the sexual implications of mixed gender nudity, the swimsuit inequality simply doesn’t make sense.

photo 2All that said, if you have the chance, get thee to Maui and find your way through the pricey resorts to this little slice of heaven where wet nylon is optional, and the sun and the sea are intoxicating. And oh… on that note, Little Beach is a State Park, and thus, no alcohol is allowed. Just to save you the trouble of packing in a case of beer or a bottle of wine. Or at least, to advise appropriate discretion if you do.

Live long, and surf naked.