Who wants to read a story about a nude beach from a Catholic prude who won’t even take their clothes off? A month ago, I wrote a piece about a nude beach in Patmos that generated some hate mail, both from strangers and friends. I’m not a naturist and the fact that I took a few cheap shots at the age and appearance of many of the nudists I’ve encountered in Greece and elsewhere rubbed some the wrong way.
But a few of my friends also gave me a hard time for being “uptight” and “close minded.” When in Rome, one reminded me, do as the Romans do. Another friend that works as an editor at a magazine I contribute to wrote that she was “disappointed” in Gadling’s editor for “not insisting that” I “go native in the name of journalism,” and concluded that the least I “could have done was take it off on a nude beach.”I took all of this in but resolved to do nothing about it. My distaste for public nudity dates back to at least high school, when we were forced to shower in a dirty, open shower room after gym class. I’m sure that some guys enjoy that kind of male bonding, but I’m not one of them, thank you very much.
Still, despite my misgivings and hang-ups about public nudity, I couldn’t help but reconsider my position on nude beaches after spending four nights in Plakias, a quiet little beach town on Crete’s south coast a couple weeks ago. Our apartment was directly across the street from a beach that had a very lively nude section at the end of it and I couldn’t help but notice how much fun the nudists seemed to be having.
We didn’t sit amongst them, but they were close enough that I could see what was going on, and my sons and I played the role of nude beach voyeurs a few times, taking slow strolls and swims near their turf. The average age on this beach was about 55 or 60. But I feel compelled to admit that there were some younger, more attractive nude couples on this beach as well, so my earlier insinuation that nude beaches are the stomping ground of creepy, obese seniors is obviously well off the mark.
Over the course of a few days, I saw a few attractive women in their 20s and 30s casually strolling about and frolicking on the beach in the buff, yet attracting no real attention, and it reminded me of a revelatory moment on my first visit to Germany at the age of 23.
On my first night in the country, I went down to use the sauna and spa in my hotel in the historic eastern city of Erfurt and saw what I thought was a mirage: two absolutely lovely young women taking a shower outside the sauna with no curtain or door to impede anyone’s view.
I stopped dead in my tracks at the sight of them. I knew it wasn’t socially acceptable to get a very good look but I couldn’t immediately leave before making sure my eyes weren’t deceiving me. Call me a pervert, if you like, but I’m an American, and in my country, beautiful women do not take showers in public.
Inside the sauna, there were even more attractive women completely naked and I decided on the spot that Germany was a wonderful country indeed. But I couldn’t help but conclude that such a scene would have been impossible in the U.S.A. If word got out that gorgeous women were showering and lounging about nude somewhere in the 50 states, there would be pandemonium and the clubs would have to hire security to protect the naked women.
But Germany, Greece and other countries are different – attractive women can flaunt it on the beach in the buff and no one seems to notice. Or perhaps everyone notices but does an awfully good job of pretending that they aren’t noticing. In any event, I took note of the fact that the Plakias beach had a few good looking young people having fun going nude but still saw no reason to take part.
That is, until our last morning in Plakias. My wife came into the living room, where I was writing, and said, “Can you watch the kids for a while? I think I want to do something crazy.”
“Something crazy?” I asked. “Like what?”
“I’m going skinny-dipping on the nude beach,” she said. “We’re leaving town and this is the perfect time.”
I should mention here that my wife is not the kind of freethinking radical who would have danced naked at Woodstock. No. She was raised in a small town in the Midwest, and is a God-fearing, modest, thoroughly American lass. But on this day, she wanted to take a nude swim just for the hell of it. An hour later, she returned, looking quite content.
“Were you really gallivanting around naked on the nude beach?” I asked.
“I wasn’t gallivanting,” she protested. “I just took a quick swim and then came right back out and got dressed, but it was fun, you should try it.”
Not to be outdone, I thought, what the hell, and headed across the street for a skinny-dip of my own. I made my way down the textile section of the beach towards the nude section, which is right beneath a huge rocky cliff popular with rock climbers, and saw an attractive, nude young woman with disproportionately large breasts playing paddle tennis with a nude male companion.
Their body parts were flying all over the beach as they lunged and dove for shots in a spirited contest that, bizarrely, seemed to be attracting no attention whatsoever on the crowded beach. Again, I was sure that a scene like this one would inspire mayhem in the U.S.
Scenes like this one are both a best and worst case scenario for men. I won’t get into all the practical considerations of being a novice on a nude beach- men will know what I’m referring to here- but suffice it to say that guys don’t want their hearts beating too fast while in the buff.
There was a lounge chair available right next to the nude paddle tennis couple but I felt a little shady taking that one, so I walked further on towards an open sun bed a safe distance away but very close to the shoreline, bathing suit still on.
Happily, most of the other nude sunbathers were either asleep, getting (nude) massages from two Asian women who worked the beach, or were absorbed in books. If no one is looking at a woman with quintuple D cups playing paddle tennis, surely no one will notice me taking a quick nude swim, I thought.
I was safely in the cool, clean Libyan Sea, naked, within about 30 seconds of nervously shedding my suit about as hastily as one might flee a burning building. I didn’t run into the water, but you can call it a quick trot. As soon as I was submerged, I felt cool, free and relaxed. Why had I never done this before?
After a few minutes in the water, another attractive nude woman, who was snorkeling, came floating right by me. Maybe she was in pursuit of some colorful fish, I don’t know, but I was struck by how cavalierly she was floating around, bare butt in the air, totally unconcerned about swimming right near other bathers like me.
After about a half hour, I swam back to the shore, and purposely exited right in front of my chair. Somehow, on the way out of the water, I felt more self-conscious, probably because I was dripping wet and knew I looked ridiculous. It was probably only 15 steps but I had nightmare visions of bumping into people I knew – a priest, a former teacher, a colleague from work, who knows – even though I lived thousands of miles away.
That didn’t happen, but in my rush to get my suit back on, I struggled to get the second leg in the proper hole and nearly keeled over. I must have looked ridiculous. I enjoyed the nude swim but I still draw the line at lounging about naked on the beach, at least until they invent a 100 SPF sun block specifically designed for genitalia.
But I have to admit, I dug the nude beach in Plakias. Maybe next time I won’t be in such a hurry. Who knows, maybe at some point, I’ll become so European that the sight of beautiful naked women won’t even arouse my attention. But I doubt it.
(Images via Wolfgang Straudt, and Dave Seminara)