True story: do you know that up until this summer, when I started to properly learn the power of social media, the post responsible for driving readers to my blog was a throwaway post from 2012 about nude beaches.
I don’t remember exactly why I wrote the post. I think it’s because I had a conversation with someone who’d been to a nude beach in New Jersey (There’s one very close to NYC-weird, right?). I also remember thinking (rightfully) that it wasn’t something covered a lot in the US-travel blogosphere (I hate myself for using that term, just FYI) and did have a funny story about happening upon a nude beach on a family vacation that I wanted to share. I’m cringing just thinking about it, but am also fairly certain that I wrote it in part to maybe seem as free to new experiences and as adventurous as many of the travel bloggers I followed at the time. Perhaps, I’d put out there, that this is something I’d try, because I was they type of person who defied convention. I marched to the beat of my own drummer (FYI again: many things about writing this paragraph are making me hate myself).
I don’t know who I thought I was fooling. I wear a lot of polo. I just spent an absurd amount of money on a pair or Reefs. I listen to primarily country music, Subway is one of my favorite restaurants, and I think both Armageddon and White Chicks are cinematic masterpieces. I’m not exactly bohemian. It actually took a return trip to a nude beach this summer, to lead me to the conclusion that this is not a phenomena I care to experience, however it did prove interesting.
This summer, I took an extended weekend trip to Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard (which I haven’t written about yet because…I don’t have a good reason). We stayed in Hyannis for two nights before taking the ferry over to the Martha’s Vineyard town of Oaks Bluff. Our first day on the vineyard, we rented a car so they we could drive down to Moshup Beach and Gay’s Head Lighthouse, a spectacularly picturesque beach and point on the island that I’d visited as a child.
Moshup Beach is renowned for its backdrop of spectacular clay cliffs and rocky shoreline. It’s also known amongst Martha’s Vineyard locals as somewhere you could unofficially sunbathe (and swim) butt-ass naked. This was actually the nude beach my family stumbled upon when I was in 7th or 8th grade. We didn’t know about it then, and were very surprised when we went on a walk and started running into naked people. You could read about that more in my previous nude beach post I linked to above, but since I already wrote about it, I’m not going to rehash here.
The whole beach isn’t nude, and in fact, it’s entirely possible to go to Moshup beach and not even realize there’s a clothing optional portion. The path from the parking lot deposits you on a beach front that looks like any other on the island, albeit one with much prettier scenery.
The unofficial clothing free-zone begins once you start walking towards the lighthouse, some distance from the everyday beach goers. I presume this is by design so that naturalists can chill without gawkers.
I wish I could tell that I maturely thought to myself, “nudity isn’t a big deal,” and let the people at the nude beach be, but full disclosure is that I was curious to check it out. What can I say? I’m naturally a little immature and maybe even a bit pervy.
The thing is that I honestly do believe that nudity isn’t a big deal. I’m no exhibitionist myself, but the idea that a dick or boob is exposed doesn’t get me all hot and bothered-we all have them (well, one or the other usually). I’m generally of the mindset that people often overblow the negativity of nudity. So I was essentially surprised at how uncomfortable the experience proved to be.
The way the beach gradually, and unceremoniously switches from clothed, to clothing optional is amusing. At first, you don’t really notice anything, and if you weren’t looking you might think to yourself, “I swear that person’s ass was getting some sun.” You’d be correct of course, but there is a portion where clothed and non-clothed patrons blend together. Then, it seemed as if for a few hundred yards, there was this weird no man’s land where no one seemed to be sitting, before reaching the portion of the beach where you were one of the few people wearing some board shorts.
Here’s the thing, when I first sat down to start writing this post, I couldn’t help but just think that maybe it was me who felt like there was a certain joylessness and almost severity to this particular clothing optional beach front. Maybe expecting bongo drum playing, the smell of weed, and an affinity for dreadlocks was a little stereotypical of me, but I did expect to see people having fun, playing in the surf, and generally seeming to enjoy the fact that they could literally rock out with their cock out, as the saying goes. Instead, it felt solemn. It was almost too quiet, and a majority of the nudists seemed to simply be sitting in chairs playing on their iPhones. I thought it was just me, until I found this old article from Martha’s Vineyard Magazine that eloquently echoes what I was feeling.
Maybe it’s something about having to be hidden a half mile down from the beach, obscured by the cliffs that makes them feel like they should act like they’re in hiding. Maybe it was, as the article so deftly pointed out, the fact that in order to go nude, there seemed to be an array of umbrellas, hats, sunglasses and shirts employed. I swear, a large portion of those letting it all hang out were not completely nude, but rather bottomless. Again, I’m hoping not to offend anyone reading, but if I’m being honest, seeing someone remove their pants, but keeping their shirt and hat on seems like a matter of protest, or trying to defy convention, rather than legitimately enjoying being uninhibited; like the hipsters of the nude beach world. I’m sure part of it is that since these are so rare in the US, it does become something of a gimmick, which made our walk seem somewhat voyeuristic (probably because in part, it was). Maybe this is why some of the patrons seemed so hostile, leering at us in a get-off-our-lawn manner, just as we were leering at them behind the protection of our sunglasses.
The thing is, I feel like if we kept walking further, we may have reached a portion of the beach that seemed to be what I expected. Just underneath the lighthouse, where the land reaches a point, the beach becomes exceedingly rocky, and somewhat difficult to navigate without proper foot ware. However, it was here that we started passing naked people that actually seemed happy to be naked. They walked around with little shame and I swear I could hear music up ahead. We never got that far though. At one point we reached a rocky tidal pool surrounded by these bizarre rock towers. One of our friends was curious so went over to check out what they were and accidentally knocked one over. No big deal, right? Wrong. A very angry man, whom we hadn’t noticed before sitting up at the base of the cliffs, came running down yelling at us for destroying his “art.” I swear he would’ve been waving a stick had he had one. He was also a member of the T-shirt, but no pants club, and so it was soon after that we decided to hike it on back to our blanket.
As previously stated, it was after this particular trip and writing this article that I decided I’m probably not the best candidate for a nude beach. It’s not really because I was uncomfortable at Moshup Beach though. It’s not really modesty or fear of how it would make me look or if it would be acceptable. I probably wouldn’t be opposed to a quick skinny dip somewhere in the future, and when I went snorkeling in Iceland last year, and was presented with the chance to jump into a glacier water filled continental rift (this is presented to everyone snorkeling), the only reason I didn’t is because I was with my sister, and that probably would’ve been weird.
You know the real reason?
The sun is not my friend. I tend to forget this every winter, but was reminded of it in a major way during said Cape Cod/Martha’s Vineyard Trip. I hadn’t been to the beach for more than a weekend in a few years, and well, by the third day I was burnt, peeling and in great pain, despite wearing sunscreen. By our last day, I was wearing long sleeves on 80 degree days. It was that bad.
I simply don’t have the skin tone for prolonged exposure, and well, there’s a certain part of me that I simply can’t imagine burnt and peeling, nor do I think would be appropriate to slather said parts with sunscreen in public.. I’ll stop now.