A hang-glider cruises low over the beach, his huge shadow startling sunbathers, awakening sleepers. He finds a break in the bodies, swoops, and lands. He unstraps himself, takes off his helmet, then his clothes. Someone hands him a beer, and he gets lost in the mass of nude bodies.
This place, Black's Beach, is a tourist attraction. There's maybe 2000 people on the beach on a Sunday and that many again milling around on the cliffs trying to get a glimpse of the action. They want to see the nude volleyballers frolicking like kids at summer camp, the nude grandmother helping her nude granddaughter build a sand castle. They want to see the nude bodybuilders doing push-ups in the surf, the pudgy bald men lying nude on their backs while they squint to read magazines held at arm's length, the merry family of four playing nude Frisbee. They want to see nude surfers, pink from the cold, thrashing with arms and legs to slip into waves, and of course, the nude meat-and-potato Marines roaming around in loud restless packs.
Who are these people? What are they doing here with their clothes off?
They're just people who like to get naked in the sun," the lifeguard explains nonchalantly. "They no different than anyone else. Occasionally, there's a problem with some guy who's a little forward in taking pictures of someone else's girlfriend, and then I just go over and talk to the guy. We have a lot of cliff rescues for people trying to get down here, or for tourists who just want to take a look, but it's pretty much like any other beach in San Diego. It's a good spot for nudity, secluded, the people like to come here, so why not?"
Public nude sunbathing in San Diego has been confined, legally, to the 300 yards of Black's Beach at the northern end of the San Diego city limit. While it is illegal elsewhere in the county, individual cities have the right to decide whether or not they will tolerate nudity within their boundaries. (The city of Carlsbad recently decided to prohibit nudity on its beaches.) A new county ordinance dealing with public nudity has been in effect since October of 1975 when the Board of Supervisors voted to revise the old ordinance, which was supposedly unenforceable.
San Diego County sheriffs and lifeguards have been trying to enforce the new ordinance, concentrating mostly on the long stretches of beach in North County, which is where the complaints and controversy over the issue originated. They cruise the beaches in four-wheel drive vehicles, checking out the favorite nudist spots like the Boneyard in Encinitas and the Snakepit in Leucadia. According to the sheriff's office in Encinitas, while they don't actually go out looking for nudists (contrary to popular rumor, a helicopter isn't used to spot nudists), they'll bust them if they see them.
Most of the offenders seem to be young girls who prefer to sunbathe topless, and often the encounter is accompanied by hoots and hecklings from nearby spectators. At one such scene, where two topless girls were apprehended by deputy sheriffs, the officers were asked exactly what they were doing: "Well, these girls are just being given a warning, but they will be cited for a second offense."
"Because when the county ordinance was passed last fall, we were told it would be enforced, and now we're starting to get complaints again, both directly and through the County Board of Supervisors."
After the deputies drove off in their green-and-white Bronco, the girls were asked what happened. "Aw, they were pretty nice and just gave us a warning. See, this is the second time we've been caught."
"By the same guys?"
"Yeah, they remembered us. We gave them phony names, but they found out — don't ask me how — and they said they were going to call out mothers." They both go into convulsions of laughter. "I hope they do, my mother'll tell them where to go! Anyway, they told us there were a lot of perverts around with cameras, and they asked us if we wanted to see out picture in some dirty magazine."
But the State Park rangers seem to be taking a little different point of view. The ordinance seemingly isn't enforced at all on the mile or so of beach to the north of Black's, and when a ranger at Seaside in Solana Beach was asked if he was writing citation for nude sunbathers these days, he said smiling, "Haven't seen any." A topless girl was lying not 30 feet away.
"Well, suppose you did?"
"I might warn them."
"Why is it the county sheriffs and lifeguards are enforcing the ordinance and you aren't?"
"They receive different pressures than we do. Look, there's a lot of laws on the books. We can choose to enforce any of them, but we try to be selective about it."
According to County Supervisor Lee Taylor, who originated the new ordinance, it was the old ordinance which was unenforceable. He said he had been receiving hundreds of angry complaints from property owners, church, and civic groups. "People felt they couldn't attend the beaches with their families anymore," he said. When asked if he thought the new ordinance was enforceable, he responded, "Oh sure, absolutely."
Of those groups opposed to nude sunbathing, the Self-Realization Fellowship has been the most vocal. Their temple and meditation grounds sit on the bluff directly above the Boneyard, a small semi-secluded beach which the county had proposed as a possible legal nude beach in North County. The SRF's statement opposing that idea came out in a full-page ad in a local paper last fall, stating that they didn't object to nude sunbathing morally, but that a legal nude beach below their grounds would be an undesirable distraction to their weekend retreats.
Other churches have objected to nude sunbathing on a moral basis, and practically every other basis, but have expressed some doubt about whether or not the law is enforceable, or ever will be.
For some reason, those who have opposed nude sunbathing on a moral basis, and practically every other basis, but have expressed some doubt about whether or not the law is enforceable, or ever will be.
For some reason, those who have opposed nude sunbathing in the past have been peculiarly silent this spring, as unclad bodies begin to appear up and down the coastline, perhaps indicating that the nudists are starting to slip back into their old ways. Several persons known to have come out strongly on this issue last fall, when contacted recently, were unwilling to make an open statement about their feelings on the effectiveness of the new ordinance. One woman said flatly, "I don't want to get involved with that anymore."
County supervisor Jack Walsh, who was the only board member to vote against the new ordinance, is of the opinion that it's a matter of individual choice, and perhaps constitutional right, to decide whether or not a person sunbathes without clothes.
At least one person, Carol Kurtz of Del Mar, has tried to test the legality of the county ordinance after being cited for nudity last fall. Her attorney, Robert Basie, explained the situation like this: "We tried to take a shot at the statute on the grounds that it was unconstitutional. The court ruled that it was constitutional. Ms. Kurtz lacked the funds to try for an appeal. She decided to be done with the hassle and we entered a plea of guilty." She was fined $35.
Meanwhile, the nudists continue to say that the difference between what is socially acceptable and what is unacceptable is usually nothing more than one or two small strips of cloth hiding what society has deemed obscene. And, they say, to assume that morality is somehow served by those scanty patches is absurd.
Apparently, the final test of the new ordinance, both on the beaches and in the courts, is yet to come. Something the county hasn't considered yet, but perhaps should, is expanding the boundaries of Black's Beach so that it's large enough to hold all the nudists in San Diego County, and then installing turn-styles on the trailheads and charging tourists $2 a head to have a look.