Get naked! American nudists celebrate summer au naturel

Image: Over 13,000 participants from all over the country participated in this year's World Record Skinny Dip event, July 2010.
National Nude Recreation Week kicks off on July 4. Last summer, more than 13,000 participants from all over the country participated in the American Association for Nude Recreation's World Record Skinny Dip event.John Mark Day / AANR
/ Source: contributor

As Americans across the country take off for the holiday weekend, a select group will be going even farther.

They’ll be taking it all off.

National Nude Recreation Week kicks off with a metaphorical bang July 4, and nudists are inviting all of America to doff the duds, slap on the SPF 30 and join them for a skinny dip, a hike au naturel or an outdoor frolic in their birthday suits.

“We’d like everyone to know how much better off we’d all be if everyone knew the physical, spiritual and emotional benefits of nudism,” says Dr. Gerry Goodenough, a Corona, Calif., nudist. “The constricting emotional doors all drop away, and pretty soon we’re all playing like little kids again.”

Well, like naked little kids again.

“If people would only try it once, I think they’ll see the joys of being naked outdoors,” says Carolyn Hawkins, spokesperson for the American Association for Nude Recreation in Kissimmee, Fla. “During Nude Recreation Week, most clubs open the doors for free and let people come in and see how much wholesome fun nude recreation can be.”

(Surprising nude fact no. 1: Famous American nudists and skinny dippers include George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and John F. Kennedy.)

Fun — without clothes
Nude recreation is doing what you’d expect of a pastime enjoyed by people without clothes: It is coming in from out of the cold.

The year-round calendar is filling up. National Nude Gardening Day was May 14; The World Naked Bike Ride (motto: “Bare as you Dare”) was June 11; and the ever-popular Nudestock will be celebrated at various clubs Aug. 27.

And hundreds of thousands of Americans will make plans to visit one of the 260 AANR approved nudists resorts and clubs across North America. They may be short on pockets, but they’re long on cash. The AANR estimates naked Americans will spend $440 million on so-called “nakations” this year.

(Surprising fact no. 2: Travel experts say nudists tend to pack just as much to go on a nakation as clothed tourists).

Typical club recreations include — insert adjective “naked” prior to each activity — yoga, golf, billiards, charity fitness runs, needlepoint, line dancing, water volleyball and even car shows.

“Every recreational activity you enjoy doing with clothes on you can enjoy even more doing without clothes on,” says Goodenough, 68, a retired physician and one of 400 year-round residents at California’s Glen Eden Nudist Resort, which has 1,600 members.

“The biggest misconception is that today’s nudists are a bunch of swingers and party people,” Hawkins says. “But any group affiliated with the AANR must maintain family standards.”

Nudists for years were stigmatized as sunburned oddballs who dwelt in rustic “colonies” down old dirt roads. Today, many people recognize nudists as just regular folks without all the pesky tan lines.

'Comfortable in one’s own skin'
That the image is changing is due in large part to work done by nude entrepreneurs like Tom and Nancy Tiemann, owners of the Austin-based nude travel agency Bare Necessities Tour & Travel.

Back in 1988, the two were self-described “backyard nudists” when they accidentally strolled onto a nude beach in the West Indies. What they say they saw opened their eyes — in ways that had nothing to do with a good, long gawk.

“We saw these weren’t trashy people,” Nancy says. “They weren’t deviants. They were genuinely nice people from a broad socio-economic background. What they wanted were more upscale options.”

The Tiemanns decided to roll the dice and see if they could find a cruise line that would agree to book a nudes-only cruise ship. Tiemann says jaws dropped when she told prospective bookers that trousers most definitely would.

“Really, the biggest difficulty was getting someone to not hang up. They all thought it was a prank.”

What started as a quixotic quest to fill a rickety 36-passenger dive boat with naked men and women in 1991 has grown into a thriving niche industry that is taking reservations for a February 2013 cruise extravaganza that will include a cargo of sunscreen ample enough to protect an expected 3,000 nudists, none of whom are aspiring to any “best dressed” cruise awards.

“It’s a nine-day cruise from Fort Lauderdale through the Panama Canal and we’re calling it The Big Nude Boat,” she says. “It’s exceeded all our expectations. The cruise lines now compete for our business, as do the ports. They know we spend money and they know we wear clothes whenever we’re off the boats or the captain asks us to.”

(Surprising fact no. 3: Nudists at sea have a dress code. In the formal dining room, clothes must be worn for safety reasons. Trays of scalding coffee and flaming basked Alaska don’t mix with exposed skin aboard rolling decks).

It may sound like an oxymoron, but the nudists are uniform in beseeching the understanding of their clothed brothers and sisters who mistakenly believe their pastime involves swinging, swapping or other adventures.

“People need to understand nudism isn’t about getting a really great tan,” Tiemann says. “It’s about accepting ourselves and one another as we are. If nudists share a common thread, it’s about believing in the importance of everyone being comfortable in one’s own skin.”