The Pros and Cons of Baring it All

When Dave Cole first came to San Diego, he was excited to frequent the infamous Black’s Beach.

Cole’s first experience with nudism was in 1984, when he had just come to San Diego to serve in the Navy, and was stationed in National City.

“[I] came here from Cleveland, Ohio, and I was only here for a few weeks, maybe a couple of months,” Cole said. “I heard that there was a nude beach in town. In my 21-year-old Midwest brain, I see supermodels.”

But as time passed, going to Black’s became more than just an opportunity to look at people. Cole’s yearning for eye candy was replaced by a newfound appreciation for the human body.

Cole is one of many in a larger movement that takes place every day at Black’s Beach, which focuses on the social significance of public nudity.

Black’s Beach’s gnarly waves have long been a favorite for San Diego surfers. But the popular surf spot is perfect for beach-goers who don wetsuits and who don their birthday suits — nudists.

Black’s Beach is the largest nudist beach not only in the greater San Diego area, but in the United States. The beach derives its name from William Black, an oil millionaire, who owned the land above the beach, which is now known as the La Jolla Farms neighborhood. Most UCSD students know the beach as either the closest surf spot to campus or as a haven for elderly men in the buff, but Black’s Beach has a long history.

Black’s is split between two territories — the northern portion of Black’s Beach is a part of the Torrey Pines State Beach, while the southern portion is part of the Torrey Pines City Beach. Nudism on Black’s Beach became popular in the mid-1970s. For three years, nudity was legally permitted on the Torrey Pines City Beach portion, and it eventually spread into the state beach portion.

There was only one road that was available for people to reach Black’s, eliciting complaints from surrounding homeowners about beach-goers parking on private property. The nudity ban became effective in 1999.

Nudity was subsequently banned on the southern portion of the beach, but the Cahill Policy protected the right to nudity in the northern portion of the beach.

Drafted in 1979 by Russell Cahill, the state parks director during the 1970s, the policy stated that as long as the people in the nude did not engage in any lewd activities on the beach and no complaints were made against them, they would not be bothered by the state department officials.

The Cahill Policy stated, “It shall be the policy of the Department that enforcement of nude sunbathing regulations within the state park system shall be made only upon the complaint of a private citizen.”

The Cahill Policy is still in effect at Black’s Beach.

The development of a nudist community began in 1990, under the late Al Spencer. Spencer created the Black’s Beach Bares Association, a group that worked with park rangers, lifeguards, and the beach-goers to ensure the protection of the beach. Spencer was known as the “mayor” of Black’s Beach. In 2000, Lloyd Johnson took over Spencer’s position.

As leader of the Black’s Beach Bares, Johnson started to publish newsletters to keep members of the group informed about what was happening on the beach. He organized events for the nudist community, ensured that the beach was kept clean and hoisted a flag, emblazoned with the silhouettes of a nude man and woman, to represent the Black’s Beach Bares. He also launched an informational website, blacksbeach.org.

Johnson has moved to Hawaii and is no longer involved with the Black’s Beach Bares. Cole, a friend of Johnson’s, then created the group known as the Friends of Black’s Beach. The group is comprised of the same people who were involved with Black’s Beach Bares and wants to achieve the same goals as the Black’s Beach Bares. Cole also created the website, friendsofblacksbeach.com, which states that its goal is to promote nudism and make sure that the southern section of Torrey Pines State Beach stays clothing-optional. Additional pages on the website contain information about nudist history and nude beach etiquette.

Cole is also the West Coast representative of the United States of The Naturist Society, a group that focuses on the social nudism and body acceptance.

“I don’t know when it happened, there was never an ‘aha’ moment,” Cole said. “At some point, I realized that I was more just enjoying the sunshine and being there. There was some point that I realized that those supermodels had been there all along. Now I can look at anyone and appreciate them.”

Nudism has also helped Cole’s wife, Chrissy, another Black’s Beach nudist, to develop acceptance of her body. In 2004, while in college, Chrissy first learned about nudism through a group project in her speech class.

“We had to do a research paper and presentation on a subculture,” Chrissy said. “The group that I decided to join [was] interested in doing nudist resorts. It was not even my idea.”

Exploration of the nudist culture led Chrissy to become more comfortable with her own body. Growing up as a very thin girl, Chrissy was teased about her body. The body acceptance that the nudist culture supported drew Chrissy toward it.

“When I found a space [where] no one picked on me for the body style that I have, it was such a relief,” Chrissy said.

Chrissy blames the media for making people, especially females, assume a negative view of themselves.

“Media really has done something to females to feel very unattractive without make-up or a push-up bra,” Chrissy said. “If you’re natural, you’re not beautiful.”

Cole’s view of the media is similar to his wife’s. He believes that there are not as many young people involved in the nudist culture because of the effect of social media on young people in today’s society.

“With the media the way it is, [saying that] you have to be a certain size, you have to be a certain weight, you have to buy this product or you’re not pretty enough. [Young people are] bombarded with advertisers that are telling them that they are not worthy,” Cole said. “Unfortunately, there are so many young people [who] have horrible self-esteem and a horrible self-image.”

Chloe Jackson, a sophomore at UCSD who enjoys frequenting Black’s Beach, offers a different perspective from Cole and Chrissy. Jackson believes that there is pressure on young people from the media, but this pressure does not dissuade her from participating in the nudist culture.

“There is a lot of pressure on young people to be thin because that is what is considered attractive,” Jackson said.

However, she does not believe that the media has the power to prevent young people from going to Black’s.

“I would say that the media does not dissuade people from joining the nudist movement,” Jackson said. “At Black’s, more people are ‘not skinny’ than ‘skinny.’”

Cole and his wife visit colleges to speak about the nudist culture. There is a common stereotype that surfaces during these presentations: Only old people participate in nudism.

Jackson said that before going to Black’s Beach, she also believed in the stereotype that “[Black’s] is [filled with] a bunch of creepers: creepy old men.”

Cole says that this stereotype is demographically accurate because as people get older, they become less self-conscious.

“Old people get to a point where [they] just don’t care what people think and [they] just want to be comfortable,” Cole said.

Another stereotype of the nudist culture is that nudism promotes sexually explicit behavior. On Cole’s website, there is a section devoted to the proper etiquette that people should implement while nude at Black’s Beach. The Black’s Beach website advises people to be respectful of other’s space and privacy and to refrain from engaging in sexual activity on the beach while nude. Bolded and underlined reads the statement, “Nude is not lewd.”

Chrissy believes that nudism becomes lewd when people’s actions lack respect for others.

“Just because you’re nude,” Chrissy Cole says, “does not necessarily mean that you’re inappropriate.” She goes on to say that, “As long as people are behaving appropriately and minding their own business and not doing adult sexual activity, in designated areas [nudism] can be appropriate.”

Jackson encountered some opposition about her nudism from her roommate, but the opposition wasn’t stemmed from the idea that nude is lewd.

“[My] roommate was totally opposed to it for the longest time. It was so funny,” Jackson said. “Even though we became great friends, she still had this rule that I couldn’t hug her if I wasn’t 50 percent clothed. She came around eventually, though.”

Cole addressed the misconception held by many wary UCSD students that Black’s Beach is a big orgy.

“It couldn’t be [further] from the truth,” Cole said. “We are the most boring people. If anything, we are more conservative, because we know that people are watching. There is a constant stream of people walking up and down the beach.”

For Dave and Chrissy Cole, Black’s Beach is not a big orgy, but rather an environment that allows getting to know someone on a personal level.

“[Nude recreation] is the great equalizer,” Cole said. “When you meet somebody at Black’s Beach, you don’t know if you are talking to the CEO of a company, a politician, a school teacher or a bus driver. You are talking to a person and you get to know them as a person, not as the façade that they portray to rest of world when they have their clothes on.”

Chrissy shares the same perspective as her husband.

“I see clothing as more of a costume and how you are going to represent yourself,” Chrissy said.

Dave Cole recounted a story about two men he knows who play volleyball together at Black’s Beach. The story demonstrates his and his wife’s view on how clothes create judgment.

“One of [the men] is almost homeless, and the other is a multi-millionaire living in La Jolla, and they are best friends. They would have never met in the clothed world.”

Cole concluded that nudism provides a setting in which people of vastly divergent backgrounds can actually get to know one another.

“When you’re in this environment when you don’t have those cues to prejudge somebody and now you just get to know them as a person. It’s an amazing, amazing feeling. Talk about liberating.”  

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