the nothing whatever...

Couch Surfing Diaries Part Three

I stumbled across the profile of CSH-3 when looking for the best surf breaks in San Diego. It was mentioned on some site on the internet that Blacks Beach is the break that is most likely to hold a swell even when all the other breaks were 1-2 ft mush. The reason for this is Scripps Canyon, an underwater canyon that helps concentrate the swell, with Blacks sitting directly exposed to the base of the canyon, where the swell is snowballed and pushed out. Exposed is probably the right use of word too as it so happens that, unbeknownst to me at the time, Blacks Beach is also San Diego's main nudist beach.

So it stands to reason that by deciding to stay at Blacks Beach, CSH-3's profile, with its 180 plus positive reviews and its 100% response rate, would be the first to show up. Without really even reading it, I sent CSH-3 a message asking if his couch was free over the Memorial Day weekend period and if I could stay for much of it. CSH-3 responded almost instantaneously. He told me that his couch was free and that he was more than happy to have me there. But, he said, I will “mark you down as a maybe” until you confirm that you read my profile and understand that myself and my housemate are both nudists. I quickly weighed up the pro's and con's...on the one hand I get to stay at a surfing beach that is famous in reputation and surf all day, on the other hand I will probably need to be reading my book a lot. In my eyes, it was win-win.

You will remember that in my first Couch Surfing Diary entry I mentioned that couch surfing offered a way to incorporate yourself into the day-to-day livelihood of your hosts in order to be as least obtrusive as possible. Well, when CSH-3 explicitly asked me if I myself was a nudist, I felt I needed to tell him that although I wasn't and I wouldn't be walking around naked in his house, I am not the type to judge and I also don't have an issue with people being comfortable enough with their body's to do so. This response was enough to secure my position on his couch. The thought briefly went through my head about the hygiene of resting my head on a couch where...other things...may have rested, but it was quickly blanketed by the thought that I never once cared about hygiene in the past, so what was the benefit in starting now.

My place in San Diego was sorted, and while I knew it was going to be an interesting experience, I didn't actually realize how interesting until I got a message from CSH-3 about two weeks before I was due to stay at his place. He said that each year he participates in a 5km fun run, and that on the Sunday of my stay the event was scheduled once again. He said that he was going to register, and asked if I would like to register too as it is usually a really good day. He also mentioned that he had another Australian couch surfer staying that weekend who had already confirmed that he was in. Attached was a link to a brochure promoting the fun run and, of course, the words “fun” and “run” only described a third of what the event entailed. The other word prepending the two was “nude”.

Reading the above, you may be inclined to see it as though I was feeling somewhat pressured into a decision. But I have to tell you that I can vouch for CSH-3 and I really don't think this pressure was deliberate, rather it was a manifestation of my own perceived responsibility to be a good guest. Not only that, I did not see this pressure as a determining factor, as if I didn't want to do it the answer would be no. But a part of me really did. That simplified internal dialogue, that screaming voice telling me to push the envelope, as soon as it caught wind of the possibility that I could be jumping into not just an environment but a sub-culture that was so madly bizarre, a separate universe from the one I had existed in for the previous 29 years of my life, it began to pepper me with reasons as to why I should do it.

“Ben, what have you got to lose? You will never see these people again.”

“You claim that you are such a free-spirited minimalist, are you really so uptight that you can't bear to be without clothes for half an hour? Shame on you, hypocrite.”

“It's good for your fitness Ben. You should do it because it is good for your fitness.”

Then, finally, the clincher.

“It will make great writing material. You will be just like the famous documentary maker Louis Theroux. Everyone loves his stuff.”

And with that, I decided that I was going to Louis Theroux the fuck out of this thing.

Two weeks later I find myself stark naked at the starting line along with one hundred or so other, also stark naked, people at a resort in inland California, about an hour and a half outside of San Diego. It was clear to me that both myself and the other couch surfer were a part of the second rarest demographic, the under 40 year old males, with the rarest demographic being virtually extinct. Everybody is shivering because of the unseasonably overcast conditions for the race, which is being delayed until all participants have taken their clothes off, as stated by the rules. I am adamant I am not going going to look down, even at myself, self-consciousness being a disease in this place. All shapes and sizes are participating, and I mean that both with innuendo and without.

The other couch surfer and I are scoping out our competition as we began stretching, myself opting for the branch of stretches that requires as little bending of the waist as possible, learning through peripheral that this is a very unselfish thing for me to do. Then, while attempting to stand around and exude the impression that I am completely comfortable and that I do this stuff all the time, the other couch surfer, henceforth going by the name CSG-2 (Couch Surfing Guest 2, with myself being CSG-1), is in his element. He is also 29, but is a lot more rambunctious, energetic and unreserved than I am, to the point where I might have thought him to be a few years younger, maybe 24 or 25. He is scouring the place, making a verbal note that there are too many men here and that there should be more attractive women. I nod and humor him, thinking to myself that the very last thing I feel like doing is speaking with an attractive woman while I have no pants on. Everything is slightly surreal, and it feels like the dream where you have just arrived at school but forgot your clothes. Only, in this dream, there is a strange twist, because so did everybody else. And, somehow, that makes it OK.

CSG-2 spots two of what I previously assumed were an extinct species, and without so much as a word to me, goes to investigate. Conversations are taking place all around me, and although I can't listen to them all at once, I can hear a few, and find it slightly baffling that the conversations are about the most trivial, normal topics that one could imagine. It says more about my mindset than anything else.

“Did you watch Game of Thrones last week?”

“...I went to get my muffler replaced and the mechanic tried to overcharge me so my brother said he would do it...”

“How's this weather huh, so strange for it to be this cold right now. You can't even dress for it.”

No, you can't. So why even bother.

CSG-2 is now on his way back over with two of the opposite sex, herding them through the wall of overweight grey, and I give him a grimaced look that he probably doesn't understand.

“This is my friend Ben.”

I shake hands with both the girls who give me their names, and I am careful to make direct, undivided eye contact with them. They have never done anything like this before either, and understandably seem to be even more inhibited than myself with ratio skewed the way it is. When I let go of their hands, I notice that on each of their wrists is a bright green elastic band with the word “lezbefit” on it, and decide to be content with letting CSG-2 exhaust his seemingly everlasting surplus of energy on this futile cause.

To a murmur of relief a man finally picks up the microphone and announces that the countdown will begin shortly and that everybody should make their way to the starting line. For some reason I expected the absence of clothes in the event to lead to an absence of competitive spirit. But no. A few guys bustle past me in order to get a more advantageous starting position before the countdown begins, the intensity of their stare telling me they have nothing but victory on their mind. I debate whether I should mention that the prestige of their victory might be undermined by the fact that nobody had any pants on at the time of it, but I am not such a jerk as to point that out when it clearly means so much to all these nakeds.

CSG-2 shouts something to me and darts off through the swarming mass of flesh to get as close to the start line as possible. I wish the girls good luck and weave my way through the gap that he etched out, making sure that nothing brushes up against anything. CSG-2 takes his place in the front row of bare arses, while I position myself in the second row, all the while making some educated guesses about who are the people that are here to win and who are the people here just to get naked. Now, I am not a competitive person by nature, but at the end of my assumptions about the other competitors I realize that, without wanting to get cocky (no pun intended), there are only really 10 or so legitimate contenders to take this out. Myself included. The voice in my head is telling me - “what more hilarious twist-of-fate would there be than having your name immortalized in the books as the winner of the 2015 Nude Fun Run”- and I begin to listen to it. It would be hilarious. CSG-2 has taken his position in the pelaton (a cycling term, but I am adopting it) that is congregating around the left side of the starting line (the overtaking lane), and even in that group I notice a few types that are likely to be overestimating their ability.

It was around then that decided that I was going to win this thing.

The countdown begins. The crowd cheers. The racers tense up, ready to dash from the blocks and establish themselves as the lead bare arse.

“3...2...1...GO!”

And we are off. The first one hundred meters or so are spent trying to establish whether or not I am running normally, obviously not being used to such a lack of support down there. For a moment I have a vision of all my unborn children being thrown against a wall over and over and over again, but I quickly lengthen my stride to a more comfortable distance and the vision goes away. The beginning stretch is a steady uphill gradient, a gut buster, and before long the lead pelaton has broken away from the stragglers and is powering around the corner at the top, ready to make its way down the first descent. Both CSG-2 and I are part of the pelaton, along with 10 or so other bare arses, and as we bound down the descent and take the big breaths in, I push him jokingly, as if to say “we are naked...this is hilarious”. He smiles curtly and then regains his focus, and I am not sure if he is truly acknowledging the complete bat-shit craziness of it all.

Eventually I fall into a breathing pattern and I begin to overtake a few bare arses until there are only 8 bare arses left in front of me, CSG-2 being one of them. As we are in a nudist resort/trailer park, there are naked people on the porch of their caravans giving us a guard of honor and cheering at nobody in particular, just cheering on that nudity. The bare arse with the headband in front of me is cheering back at them somewhat ironically, and I am counting on his liberal use of much needed energy reserves coming back to bite him in the...well, you know...on the final stretch. The first long downhill stretch comes to an end, we curl around the bend in Indian file, then begin the second uphill stretch. I decide that I am going to pump the legs, grit the teeth, and take a few spots. Make the uphill my element. Eighth. Seventh. Sixth. I leave CSG-2 in my wake.

The first lap is completed. I have pushed through at least two pain barriers but the third is proving a problem. The gut buster begins to impose its will upon the pelaton and we all slow down to a fast crawl. The cheering nakeds around the start line gradually drown out to the sounds of labored panting and heavy footsteps. I know that everybody is feeling the quadricep burn that I am feeling, and I know that if I am going to start gaining some places on this final lap I need to be the one that can compartmentalize that pain. Its a mental game now. I start powering the arms and breathing shorter breaths, switching to a more anaerobic style of workout and hoping that it conjures up some resources within me that were otherwise untapped. It seems to work. Fifth. Fourth. There are now only three bare arses in front of me when we get to the top of the gut buster.

But then, as I round the top and begin my descent I switch into neutral to recover, and all the meters gained in the uphill are relinquished to the racers behind me. Headband overtakes me, as does Tripod, Birthmark and Steve Moneghetti. I really want to keep up with them but the third pain barrier seems to be lingering, its tendrils of fire spreading into my ribs and my obliques. My breathing pattern is no longer consistent because of my earlier anaerobic switch up, and I can hear a group of footsteps behind me, the second pelaton having now curled around the top corner. I make a pact with myself to catch a few guys I let pass me and try to work out where I am sitting for the final kilometer. At my best guess I am in 7th or 8th. I have my work cut out for me.

Its the final 200 metres. More and more flailing naked spectators are appearing on either side of the track, reminding us that the pain will soon be over and encouraging everyone to overtake everyone, which by its very nature is impossible. The lead group of bare arses arc their way around the final bend and begin the incline to the finishing line. If I am going to make my move, it has to be now. I overtake Tripod as the lead pelaton briefly disappears around behind a caravan, and I begin to stride out into a sprint. I miss a sign indicating the way and accidentally go off track, almost cutting a corner and hearing Tripod call out a strained hostile rumble of protest. Turning back to raise a hand in apology only makes me want to run away quicker, with Tripod's pendulum helping to give him sporadic bursts of momentum up the incline. But by the time I return my focus to the front, to my dismay, I see that the leader has already finished. My dreams of being the best running naked in the lower California region are in tatters.

Despite my best efforts, I can't overtake Headband, who never really did show those effects of fatigue like I hoped he would. Tripod is a fair way back now, and I am quite a distance behind Headband, so it seems that my 7th place position is cemented in. The crowd's cheer spurs me on to race the clock for the final couple of meters, and I cross in a time of 22:15. I did it! I was nude for 5 kilometers! Definitely a first for me, and probably a first for anybody in my family. Mum and Dad would be proud.

It might have been the opiate kick pumping through my bloodstream, but straight after the run it felt as though I had left the shyness and the hesitance out on the track. When I was standing in line to collect my medallion and my free shirt (a pretty ironic prize), I found myself speaking with the other runners about things that weren't related to our current situation, normal topics that people speak about when they are fully clothed, triviality similar to what I was overhearing at the beginning of the race. For a while there, I caught myself forgetting that I had no clothes on, something that I never thought I would or could forget. I had evolved. I was a naked!

But, with the run completed, it was now time for the other extra curricular activities that the resort offered.

Tennis. Volleyball. Pool and Spa. Sauna.

Nakeds leaping. Nakeds diving. Naked laying about all over the place. I began to watch a doubles tennis match between two pairs of guys, team pants vs. team no-pants. Quite a good game, but the most odd thing about it was that team no-pants were still wearing all the tennis gear except the pants; the wristbands, the shirt and shoes, the headband. Naked from the waist to the ankles. I couldn't work out the logic in it, and it began to irk me as it seemed to put a bit of a blight on the cause behind the whole event. Maybe it was not to be naked, to tap into our primal ancestry, to temporarily live without the restrictions of cloth and fabric. Maybe the cause was to just show off your genitalia for as long as possible.

Gradually the awareness seeped back into my consciousness, mainly because I found myself trying to actively disrupt programmed behavior in order to remain naked and to seem comfortable that I was. For example, post race I went for a swim in the pool to cool myself off. When I got out I dried myself, no surprises there. But then, after drying myself, my natural inclination was to wrap the towel around my waist, so I did. A moment later the thought crossed my mind about why I was doing that if I did not have any board shorts or Speedo's to dry, and if it made me look as though I was deliberately trying to hide something. And so I instead threw the towel over my shoulder just to keep up appearances, to show it all off and let everybody know that I am fully on board with this whole endeavor. They were subtle things, but they were things that were distancing me from being one hundred percent relaxed and carefree, and they began to wear on me until I just didn't feel like being naked anymore. It definitely wasn't a judgment on the lifestyle, rather it said something to me about how hard it is to escape these societal and cultural pressures that constrain us to live a certain way. Over time, the pressure becomes internal, it becomes a part of your identity, and it becomes inescapable.

After half a day of being naked, eventually it was time to cloak our natural beauty and to reintegrate ourselves back into society. I had definitely enjoyed the day, even if I did find it a little taxing towards the end, and I thanked CSH-3 for giving me the opportunity to do something not many other people would have ever had the opportunity to do. I asked him what the driving force was for him, or for the group in general, to be nudists, whether there was some sort of a moral statement being made or whether it was a sense of belonging that people were craving. In as many words, he told me that there is a misconception that there needs to be some kind of cause associated with these groups or the events that they run. Most of the people in charge of running the resort and participating in it are just hippies still living the dreams of the 60's, the free love generation. They are not there to judge. They are there to expand minds, open up possibilities, and above all just have a good time.

“...and one day I tried it and I just thought “hey, this isn't so bad”, and so I started going to more and more events. And now, here I am.” he said as we staggered wearily into his apartment, me kicking off my shoes immediately as to free my cramped and blistered toes.

His reasoning all checked out. The mentality of the nakeds made sense to me. This was not a movement to change people, it was just to let people know that there is an alternative lifestyle out there that could potentially resound with them if they were brave enough to take the first step. It was about diversity. And, despite the querying expressions I am probably going to get when I tell people that I did this, it was a completely harmless bit of fun.

The bold and capitalized sign on his front door put it pretty succinctly.

CLOTHING OPTIONAL PAST THIS POINT.

It's all about the options, and even though I am choosing the clothed option, at least I can now say that it is a conscious decision. I am enlightened to the ways of the naked.