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HEY, LADIES! Let's hear it for men! Give a shout out now to the body masculine! Here's to five o'clock shadows, Adam's apples, square jaws, and rough skin. To testosterone, to the Y chromosome, to the stereotypically "stronger" sex. To lats, six-packs, thighs, hams, calves, tri's, bi's, and pecs. Now, you ask me, the male physicality wasn't built for aesthetics. Those angles and edges, the purely functional proportions: men's bods are too utilitarian, at least for my taste. (I prefer a woman's gentler curves, that smallness, the supple delicacy; that's just me.) But I guess we can all thank God and natural selection that most women see something to like in male height and hairiness, in big hands, broad shoulders, squareness, and heaviness. Which implies that a majority of the population might actually appreciate a men's swimsuit issue.

For me, personally, men's swimsuits have always been an issue (no pun intended). I recall that the first swimwear I ever bought with my own money was a little racing number, a Speedo. Red, white, and blue. I was 12, maybe 13. And I know that I wore that Band-Aid-sized rag exactly once. I remember this because the ridicule I endured, from my much-cooler-appareled friends, hampered my self-esteem for years.

Nowadays, whenever I occasion to strip down to my swimwear, my own interior monologue pesters me, "Are you standing up straight? Is your stomach tucked in? Are there zits on your back? Is your bulge rearranged for maximum show?" And on and on. Exhaustingly.

Today I own a single pair of long blue trunks, and I don't know who made them. I don't remember where I got them or how much they cost. And I'm not certain, but I think I've been sporting this same faded pair at beaches and pools for longer than nine years.

So you might imagine my surprise when I found many willing messieurs to fill the San Diego Reader Men's Swimsuit Issue. Almost every strapping example of San Diego masculinity that I approached agreed to be photographed and to speak with me. Not that I found it particularly easy to become the dispassionate journalist, in this case. Sauntering over to guys at the beach and striking up a conversation isn't generally my idea of a well-spent sunny day. "Excuse me, um, mind if I ask you a few questions about your swimsuit?" Uh-huh, right, buddy, right.

Seriously, the guys I interviewed -- the gentlemen and deadbeats, old fellas and athletes, rapscallions, partiers, students, dudes, and drakes -- were easygoing and surprisingly self-possessed. It takes real confidence to go walking around almost unclothed, and it requires an even more iron assurance to talk about walking around almost unclothed.

Very well then, here's to virility! To machismo and he-men!

Let's have a good look at them.

GILBERT DAVID DIAZ, 37

Birdwell board shorts, dark blue, $40

Owns 2 or 3 suits

Has boxed professionally (won all four of his pro fights -- all knockouts in the first round)

Over 100 tattoos

Turn-ons: Beautiful women; sick waves

Turn-offs: Drunk, littering people

"How I look in a swimsuit could improve. I'm kind of out of shape right now, but I'm going to start boxing again, so I'm trimming up. I've already lost 30 pounds, from 317 to 287. I want to get to the 220 to 240 range. Slim-Fast, baby."

PAUL POFFENROTH, 66

TYR swimsuit, black with red racing stripes, $30

Owns 6 suits

Lives most of the year in Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Took up triathlon at 59. Didn't even learn to swim until he was 52. Now he does two to five Ironman triathlons per year. (Fastest time 12 hours 50 minutes)

Tattoo with logo of Ironman

Turn-ons: Excitement of a race; lively, positive people; good food

Turn-offs: Grumpy, gloomy people

"I think I look pretty normal, like any 66-year-old guy in a bathing suit. I swim a lot. I swim, on average, three times a week, sometimes four, and most of my swims are 3000 to 4000 meters -- training for triathlons. I own half a dozen swimsuits. Sometimes at international races we end up trading swimsuits, so I have a Team USA swimsuit; I have a Team South Africa swimsuit. I'm a retired structural engineer. I've never thought about how I look in a swimsuit. When I was younger I was 20 pounds heavier, not in a bad way, but I was certainly a little flabbier than I am now. I probably look better in a swimsuit now than I ever have. And I don't expect to change over the next ten years either. I'm not aging. I look at girls in swimsuits, of course."

MIKE WESTLAKE, 44

Billabong board shorts, blue with white flowers, $25 (had them five years)

Owns 20 suits

No tattoos

Turn-ons: Girl in bathing suit, rolling down the boardwalk

Turn-offs: Fat guy in Speedo, rolling down the boardwalk

"You know, I really don't care how I look in a bathing suit. As long as it's comfortable, that's all that matters. A suit's comfortable if it doesn't fall off, doesn't pinch, doesn't bunch. Also, you want a suit that can protect you from getting board rash if you're a surfer, and you want a suit where the sand isn't so much of an issue if you're playing volleyball. I'd rather be in a bathing suit than a suit. But I'm a city planner, so I wear a suit to work all day. If I could wear a bathing suit instead, then I'd be happy. When I was young, I had a lot of swimsuits with nautical themes or sailor themes. I was a chubby kid. I've always had at least 15 or 20 swimsuits at a time. I've always spent a lot of time at the beach. How do I think I'll look in a swimsuit ten years from now? Not as good. Not as good."

SCOTTIE HARTER, 23

Rusty board shorts, red and gold "Olde Rusty 40 oz." beer-can logos, $50 (but got 'em free because he knows people) (had them for two years)

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