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Black's Beach Bares tell us how to look at them

You go to Black's and you see older, saggier, flabbier, more wrinkly bodies

Of all the sand in San Diego, one strand wins mythic status. Most of the place is inside a state park, it runs along a length of two miles walled by 300-foot bluffs, and it boasts a historic gliderport, the country's raddest shorebreak, and a famously flouted taboo. The name alone rings like something out of Pirates of the Caribbean: Black's Beach. The first time you see it, you're either 300 feet above it or miles away. It's that scenic. From above, the ocean stretches into blue haze, and from the shores of La Jolla Cove or the Children's Pool, the cliffs of Black's furl like a reddish banner in the distance. The treacherous scramble down those cliffs turns slow and strenuous coming back up. Or you can park a mile away and walk, walk, walk, squinting over hot sand. One commodity afforded by the inaccessibility of Black's Beach is privacy. You have to earn your way down.

As a result, almost everything about the place is more carefree, more natural, and more uninhibited than anywhere else in San Diego.

Including, of course, the people.

Folks call Lloyd Johnson, 44, "the mayor" of Black's Beach. The reference is only slightly tongue-in-cheek. In 2000, Johnson set up a website, began publishing a periodic newsletter, and started policing Black's and keeping the sand clean with a few of his friends, "the Black's Beach Bares." They hoisted a flag to represent their crowd, and they went about claiming an area of the beach and organizing activities for other like-minded beachgoers. And on any given summer Sunday, among the hundred or so Bares and friends who might be tanning, barbecuing, horseshoeing, volleyballing, or chatting on Black's, you'll detect very few stitches of clothing covering any parts of them.

"We tend to regard the clothed with suspicion," Johnson said. "But it isn't really discrimination."

As Johnson talked to me, I was sporting baggy beach shorts. And -- although I tried not to linger on this very fact -- Johnson's johnson hung there in full view.

I asked the man to advise me on how to better look at nudity.

"You look, you see, you move on," Johnson said, sounding like some postmodern naturist Julius Caesar. "And when you're done looking someone up and down, the mystery's all gone. There's no need to go over it again. Then you can look each other in the eye and talk to each other."


Though commonly referred to as the most renowned nude beach in the United States, Black's Beach has many other claims to fame.

Of the more licit activities enjoyed at Black's, the one that offers at least as much spectator enjoyment as naturism is hang gliding. The Torrey Pines Gliderport has graced the cliff-tops at Black's since 1928.

Bill Armstrong, who has instructed gliders for the past 15 years, told me matter-of-factly that the gliderport is widely considered "the Kitty Hawk of the West Coast."

"There's a lot of history here," Armstrong said. "It's a national landmark."

But wasn't he promoting a dangerous sport?

"No, not at all," Armstrong said. He sounded as if he were floating somewhere above me, almost wholly disinterested. "It's as safe as driving a car." And then he added, "Actually, it's probably safer. It's three-dimensional up there, whereas a car is only two-dimensional. It's pretty easy to stay out of trouble."

In fact, I found that no fatalities had been reported at the gliderport in recent memory, and no serious injuries or accidents had occurred in at least the past 20 years.

And how did gliding feel?

"Beautiful, complacent, free, very nice," Armstrong said. "It's not an extreme sport. It's a natural, biological sense, the sense of flight. And even after you land you feel completely different than you've ever felt before. It's something you can't feel any other way, knowing what it's like to fly. You can't get that feeling in an airplane or any other mechanical device."


"Free."

"A natural, biological sense."

Curious, but nudists speak of nudism in much the same way, it seems, as gliding instructors speak of gliding.

"It feels righteous."

"It just feels better. More natural."

And nudists say other things about their, um, "sport" as well:

"The sun hits you places you never knew you had."

"You totally forget you're naked. Other than the fact that it's much freer and you don't feel constricted in your clothes."

"It becomes a routine. You get used to it. And then you feel less comfortable when you go back to wearing clothes."

Aside from "the mayor," two other individuals are mentioned on the website for the Black's Beach Bares. With Johnson, call them the senior cabinet members of the naturist contingent at Black's.

Dave Cole, 43, is an area representative for the Naturist Education Foundation and represents the West Coast as one of six people on the Membership Advisory Committee of the Naturist Society. And Claudia Kellersch, 41, who was born in Germany, in Bavaria, and grew up there, is a Naturist Action Committee and also Naturist Education Foundation representative for the Bares.

Kellersch, Johnson, and Cole all display something vaguely nymphlike, elfin, and gently mischievous about their demeanors and facial expressions, which I found curious, since even good-natured mischievousness usually indicates that a person has something to hide. Maybe these naturists cloak their nudism often enough in everyday society that they still seem sprightly when they can't hide anything at all.

"We usually refer to the Black's Beach Bares as 'a group of friends dedicated to preserving the beach's clothing-optional status by educating visitors of the boundaries of the clothing-optional section as well as about proper nude-beach behavior,' " Cole said. "We're a loose-knit group of beachgoers who have adopted this beach as our own. We want it to be a clean, safe, and fun beach for everybody to enjoy."

"We call this nude recreation," Kellersch told me. "Free body culture. The German word is Freikörperkultur. This is how it's known throughout Europe. At European beaches, you'll see the abbreviation F.K.K. And then you know there's a nude beach."

I asked Kellersch how F.K.K. in Europe differed from nude recreation here in the States.

"In Europe, nude recreation is more of a family affair," Kellersch said. "The whole families go, the people are much younger than here, and you see all ages -- young kids, high school students, college students, everybody. Because it's a very inexpensive, easy way to have a sports experience, get a suntan, and just hang out."


The first time I ever went to a nude beach, ten years ago in Antibes, in the south of France, I (fully clothed) walked over to an "interesting" spot (near hordes of topless women) and stood there and gaped through sunglasses. "If only in America," I thought.

After a minute, one particularly picturesque young lady popped up off her blanket and started up the strand toward me. She was swaying, striding and smiling, unhurried, and carrying something in one of her hands.

As she approached me, stuff got suddenly deliberate, like everything decelerating into slow motion. With every advancing step, this exposed young beauty convinced me: she was walking all this way just to chat. With yours truly!

At the last moment, I looked her full in the face. We both smiled. She was an arm's length away from me now. I could smell her suntan lotion. And she reached up slowly and extended her hand...just past me? I shifted my weight.

And then, like that, she spun around -- no words exchanged -- and sauntered slowly back the length of the beach.

She'd been throwing away a candy wrapper; I was standing in front of a garbage can.


In Europe, it's always possible to spot plenty of flesh. Besides the clothing-optional beaches and crazy nightclubs, there's ample nudity all over TV. By the end of a week or two over there, I don't care much about butts and boobies anymore: they're everywhere. It ain't no big thing. And it occurs to me that it just seems so much healthier that way. The less we leave to the imagination, the less the imagination needs to lash out and create its own lurid details.

But where did our nudity taboo come from? Did we just get used to wearing clothes for practical reasons, because it was cold or because the sun was too intense? Or did it have something to do with sexism and the subjugation of women, where men in patriarchal societies decided that they had to cover their females to keep the eyes of other men from seeing too much?

(Remember, the first thing God said to Adam after Eve ate the apple was, "Where were you?"

And Adam answered, "I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself."

And ever since, we've witnessed our own natural-born state as something private and naughty and needing to be veiled. We tried to "improve" Michelangelo's David, for art's sakes!)

Nowadays, in our culture, most nudity is either private or specifically intended for consumption. But the nudity of a nudist isn't like those other nudities; although public, it isn't intended for gazing enjoyment, nor for sex.

Nudists would have us believe that they're nude because they enjoy being nude, and that's it. They don't want to show off, and they don't want to be looked at.

But that doesn't mean other people don't try to feast their eyes.

Nudists call these ogling opportunists "gawkers."

(For the record, journalists aren't gawkers, though our behaviors are similar. In fact, our behaviors are identical: we lurk and sniff around, watching things closely while our minds churn a mile a minute. We maintain our distance. Our presence makes people uncomfortable, to the point that many folks act differently whenever we're around.

But it's the intention, and the intention alone, that condemns the gawker and saves the journalist. The gawker gawks solely for his own selfish enjoyment. The journalist gawks so he can tell everyone else about it.)

Dave Cole coached me on how to recognize a gawker.

"It's pretty easy to spot body language," Cole half-joked. "Especially when someone's body is fully exposed."

He paused for effect. "But okay. One common thing is somebody's walking down the beach with no clothes on, but he's carrying all of his clothes under his arm. So he's not set up anywhere. And then he'll focus on someone, usually a woman, and he's focused on her so much that he starts stumbling over people, trying to find a place to sit down near her. And then he'll just sit and stare. Won't do anything, won't say a word to her, but just stare. And a lot of times he'll sit at a woman's feet. And he'll face the water, with his back to her, and then, eventually, he'll decide, 'Well, it's time to roll over,' and then he lies on his stomach, and he's got the perfect view."

Standard procedure for the Bares when they catch a gawker getting overly inappropriate is to approach him and serve him with a flyer. This long piece of paper thoroughly outlines the penalties for illegal beach conduct and suggests a better beach etiquette. At one point, Johnson bounded up off his towel -- mumbling angrily -- reached into a bag for one of these informational flyers, and marched with purpose over to some nearby reclining fellow.

Returning to his towel, Johnson looked me in the eye and proclaimed, "There's your story right there."

He went on, "That guy was playing with himself. We've decided it's best not to say anything to people like that. We empower each other to confront lewd people, but we don't want to get into fights. Instead, we let them know that we've seen what they're doing and that they won't get away with it. We're not going to just ignore them and let them have their fun. We give them the paper, and we walk away."

Kellersch let me in on another defense against gawkers.

"Sometimes, we put up a vision block between the woman and the gawker," Kellersch said. "And these are just pieces of canvas. They're on little bamboo sticks. Also, we invite women, when we see single women on the beach, to come and sit with our group, because there's safety in numbers. There's lots of couples, families with small children, and we're just a larger group where they can feel safe."

The Black's Beach Bares have amusing names for many of the gawkers they've picked out repeatedly over the years. Linus (always with his towel over his shoulder), Poco (a small Hispanic fellow), Humpy (needs no explanation), Sniffer (sniffing for ladies), Señor Libro (with his book upside-down, never turning the pages), Gawk-a-mole, Robo-man, Swisher, and so on.

Johnson stressed to me that just because masturbation might go on at a nude beach, this perversion shouldn't implicate all naturists. "A few months ago," Johnson said, "I read where they caught a guy jacking off in a library. They arrested the guy. They didn't close the library."


A partial list of summer reading, summer eating, and summer drinking at Black's Beach:

-- Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris

-- Chosen Prey, John Sandford

-- Trading Up, Candace Bushnell

-- People magazine

-- New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle

-- Fuji apples

-- Peanuts

-- Almonds

-- Green grapes

-- Apricots

-- Roast beef sandwich

-- Peaches

-- Miller Genuine Draft

-- Keystone Light

-- Ice tea

-- Water


"Black's Beach is a small section of Torrey Pines State Beach," Cole told me. I'd asked him if he could relate anything about the place's vaunted history.

"There was a gentleman who lived up in the La Jolla Farms area whose name was William Black. He owned all the land up there in what's now the La Jolla Farms area. And everybody referred to the area below it as Black's Beach. That's how it got the name."

What about the story that the beach got its name because of its blackish sand?

"That's a myth," Cole said. "It might have something to do with it, with how the name stuck in people's minds. But from what I've been able to find out, this is the beach that was under the property of William Black. Although it's never been officially designated Black's Beach. The part that goes north is Torrey Pines State Beach. And to the south is Torrey Pines City Beach. Black's Beach is just a local nickname."

Next I asked Cole about the beach's history as a nudist paradise.

"In the '70s, for three years, it was actually on the books, legal, to be nude at Black's Beach," Cole began. "And then the law was rescinded because there was no beach access, there was one road, and beachgoers were parking in people's yards and urinating on private property, all kinds of problems, and this was a rich neighborhood above the beach, full of people with influence in city council. And they got the law rescinded."

Cole went on, "But we operate now under what's called the Cahill Policy. Russell Cahill was a state parks director in the '70s, and there was a landmark case where a guy was arrested for sunbathing nude. And Cahill decided that rather than enforce this benign problem, he brought this policy that's still in existence today. Basically it says that any state park land that's been traditionally used for clothing-optional activities can continue to be used as such unless somebody makes a complaint."

But even that's a gray area.

Cole said, "If somebody comes here, and they're offended by the nudity, they can go to the Torrey Pines park rangers and file a complaint, and then the rangers could come down to the beach and ask everybody to get dressed for the rest of that day. And then things go back to normal. It's happened before, actually. It happened this year. They found a guy way beyond the clothing-optional border, way up north, and they cited him and then came down the beach, and from what we understand, they found three or four people on the beach who were nude -- it was cold -- and they told everybody to get dressed, and they did."

Public indecency carries fines that begin around $156 and go all the way up to $483, and, presumably, jail time for multiple or serious offenses.

"We've been trying to get the park rangers to define the border of the clothing-optional beach for us," Cole said. "Because how can you cite somebody for being on the wrong side of the border if you can't determine what the border is? But if they recognize a border, then they'd also be saying that nudity is okay on a part of the beach, and nobody in the city government or the state wants to go that far. As it stands, the nudity's not legal, but it's tolerated on the state-beach section. So we put up boundaries ourselves, the Bares, so that people know where to go and where not to go. If nudity offends them, then all they have to do is stay outside the boundary."


South of where nearly everyone's wearing the emperor's new clothes, around a bend in the cliffs and down the strand a half mile or so, you're sure to catch that old familiar San Diego sight of surfers paddling and angling into waves.

The website surfline.com calls Black's Beach "the best beachbreak in the country" and rates the surf an 8 out of 10. Other surf centers rate Black's as highly, or even higher.

Nick Carbonne, 32, has been on longboards and shortboards in San Diego since 1992. "I learned to surf in Pacific Beach," he said. "But we used to hit Black's Beach a lot when I was a kid. There wasn't a crowd element, and it usually was pretty big."

Now Carbonne avoids Black's for the same reasons that he used to like to go there. "It's out of the way, and it's kind of a hassle," he said. "And now that I've gotten older, I've gotten into riding longer boards, and I'm not into getting barreled and hammered out there as much as when I was a kid. Paddling back out past the waves is really tough at Black's because there's no channel and you just have to battle."

But sometimes, Carbonne still likes to drag out the shortboard and test his surfing mettle.

"The waves at Black's can get really hollow on big days. You know, you can get in the tube. I mean, the place can hold size. With the right conditions, Black's is unbelievable."

Sergeant John Vipond is the head city lifeguard at Black's. His mobile unit -- no permanent guard structure graces this beach -- is set up in front of the best, and only official, surf spot. Vipond gazed out to sea and told me that 500 surfers a day might ride the swells in the summer months. "Plus," he said, "there might be another 5000 people coming down the cliffs to enjoy the beach," and he gestured to his right, to the north. "We've got the most water with the fewest guards in San Diego. But that's the job. It's a big responsibility."

Betsy Malloy at About.com estimates that almost 50 topless beaches exist in California today, "where nudity or topless sunbathing is allowed or tolerated," but not one of them boasts even half as many regular visitors as Black's. Black's is, in fact, the largest and most popular nude beach in the United States. It's also, in all probability, one of the oldest. World-renowned oceanographer Walter Munk reports that when he arrived at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 1939, the locals called the place Bare Ass Beach.

Vipond told me that six guards patrol the beach in high summer, and only two guards make the rounds in winter. Besides the mobile trailer with first-aid facilities at the south end of the beach, their equipment includes a tent, fold-up chairs, an ATV, a jet ski, and a jeep. There's also a lifeguard with binoculars and a walkie-talkie in an elevated chair at the top of the bluffs, precisely one long 300-foot freefall from interceding in any trouble.

One of the unusual aspects of being a lifeguard at Black's is the possibility of having to help in cliff rescues. "People have fallen and gotten stuck up in the bluffs," Vipond said, squinting through sunglasses up at the wall of rock behind us. "And we're trained to go up and get them."

But the lifeguards aren't in it alone. Since two-thirds of Black's Beach is state property -- and in a state reserve -- the majority of the beach is under the jurisdiction of the park rangers.

Jody Kummer, the supervising park ranger in Torrey Pines State Reserve, told me that four full-time rangers patrol the park.

"But we don't watch Black's as much as we do the rest of the park," Kummer said. "Simply because the other portion of the park is a lot more used. We get about 80 percent more visitation north of Flat Rock than we do south of it on Black's Beach."

Kummer told me that Torrey Pines State Reserve averages 1.6 million guests per year.

"On a weekend summer day," Kummer said, "we'll get thousands of visitors on the beach. But dealing with problems in the water is mostly the responsibility of the lifeguards. If there's a problem on Black's, it's about six miles from the office here in the park just to get to the beach, and then it's another one or two miles up the sand just to get to where we have to get to. So it's a long process. That's why we don't overly patrol, because then when my staff gets there, they're gone for over two hours. It pulls the resources out of the park where the majority of park visitors are."

I asked Kummer how her rangers dealt with the nudism on Black's.

"The department has a policy," she said, "that unless we get a complaint regarding the naturists and their lack of clothing, then we won't dedicate any resources to controlling that. We're empowered to enforce any problems, but if no one reports anything, then we concentrate on other matters."


But where is Black's Beach, exactly?

Consistent with its mythic status, no one seems to know.

"The north end of Black's is easiest to define," Sergeant Vipond said. "Bathtub Rock, or what the park rangers call Flat Rock, juts out all the way into the waterline, and that's pretty much the north end of Black's Beach. Then you come down, down, all the way past the main route down to the beach, which we call Citizen's Trail. The nude boundary line is about 100 yards south of Citizen's Trail, and that's where the state beach ends too."

But Black's Beach continues onto city beach property, south. And there are two portions of the beach that are on private property, owned by the UC regents. "We'll call the UCSD police sometimes when we have problems down at this end of the beach," Vipond said.

So you've got state property, then city property, then private property, then city property again -- which runs almost a mile from the line of Black Gold Road down through Sumner Canyon and past Dyke Rock -- and then private property again.

Most folks say the southern boundary of Black's is all the way down at Scripps Pier. The nudity's tolerated on the state beach, and the surfing takes place over 1000 yards south, about a quarter mile north of the pier, on city territory near Dyke Rock.

"It's an undefined area," said Vipond. And then he laughed. "Black's Beach is more or less whatever you want it to be."


I read once where the poet Kenneth Koch said that nudity was aesthetic and nakedness was lascivious.

True?

"Often, 'naked' implies vulnerability," Johnson said. "Like, if you've been stripped. But if nudity isn't imposed -- if you choose to be nude yourself -- of course, then it's totally different. That's the key."


Bathing suits, with their bright colors and selective placements, are almost a kind of taunting advertising.

"Na-na," a swimsuit mockingly says, drawing attention to precisely what it's supposed to make disappear.

"You can't look here," swimsuits half-playfully sneer.

The naked body projects far less emphasis. From a distance, naked people look almost exactly alike. And even close up, the differences are a matter of an inch or two here, a degree of curvature there, a flap, a fold, and that's it. Bathing suits blare what the bare body barely whispers.

Johnson explained to me, "Women used to wear baggy suits to cover their figures, and now men wear baggy suits to cover their penises. But suits are so inconvenient. I watch women come out of the water, and they're constantly adjusting."

And Kellersch added what I thought was a hilarious opinion. "Look at these funny, long swimsuits that men wear now. They're, like, a meter long, and they're baggy, and they hang down, and when they're wet they look terrible. And, you know, if European men don't go nude, at least they wear Speedos and they look spiffy."

Spiffy? In a Speedo? I wanted to raise objections. Instead, I zeroed in on the one body-image issue that persists for men. I asked Kellersch to talk about penises. Men are, in fact, overly self-conscious about their penises, even when they're not self-conscious enough about their flabby abs and copious body hair. When a man takes off his bathing suit: boom! There it is, the whole nine yards. (Or the whole two yards, as it were.) Anyway, the point is, it's all on display. No more mystery.

So what case could Kellersch, as a woman, erect around this touchy subject?

"People of all sizes are together on the nude beach," she said. "I don't really notice little differences."

Alrighty then. I asked Dave Cole. Could he be frank about "franks and beans"?

"We'll joke about each other," Cole said, "once we know each other well enough. You know, someone will come out of the water, and we'll say, 'Well, looks like the water's pretty cold.' Or something like that."

Then Cole went on, "But the thing is, no one ever died of embarrassment." (Ironic, I thought, that one of the synonyms for embarrassment is the word "mortification," which comes from the same root as the word "death.") But Cole seemed right. "You invite your friend, who you've never seen naked, to come to the beach with you, and he comes, or she comes, and then you both feel awkward for a few moments, and then it passes. It doesn't matter what anyone's body looks like. You still get embarrassed, and the feeling of embarrassment still goes away. No big deal."

As for me, I decided not to test this theory. I hung out with the Bares a few times, yes, but I never really "hung out" with the Bares, if you take my meaning.

"You kept your shorts on," one nude nudist said to me after I'd been conducting interviews on the beach all day.

"For artistic distance," I stammered, in answer. "To maintain my objectivity as a journalist."


Allow me an analogy -- between firearms, on the one hand, and on the other hand, a state of total undress.

We've learned that guns don't kill people, people kill people. (But common sense also tells us that guns make killing easier.)

And we know that nudity isn't necessarily sexuality.

But it does remove one of the major barriers. Right?

Johnson said, "Most people only do two things nude: sex and bathing. So I can understand the association of nudism with sex, although that's a misconception. Nudists do almost everything nude. In fact, I do more things nude than I do clothed."

Kellersch added, "Simple nudity is harmless. It's our natural state. People who mistake nudity for sexuality need to be educated. We can't mix nudity with sexuality on the beach. It's illegal and it's immoral. If I see a man who doesn't understand the things he can't do on a nude beach, then I walk up to him and give him a copy of our nude beach etiquette. If a man has an erection, then we suggest that he either turn over or he go in the ocean until it goes away."

Now then -- to alter a famous phrase of Tolstoy's: flaccid, dangly monties are all the same, but every full one's full in its own way.


Most days in summer, a few times a day, a sightseeing helicopter buzzes the sand above Black's. One high point of the excursion, I'm sure, for most tourists, is the moment when, hearing the chopper approach, dozens of the Black's Beach Bares sprint down to the shoreline, turn around, bend over, and stick their burnished bums into the air. For his part, the helicopter pilot always playfully beeps back at the long line of tanned moons.


Claudia Kellersch was introduced to Black's as a student at San Diego State in the late '80s. Her husband is also a naturist, and they met through another local nudist group called the Camping Bares.

I asked Kellersch if she and her husband visited nudist colonies as well.

"We don't call them colonies anymore," she said. "That was maybe in the '60s. We call them naturist family parks or naturist resorts. I'm a member at De Anza Springs. It's an alternative when the weather at the beach isn't that great, because it's in the high desert. It's even nice there in January."

Is it different at the resort than at the beach?

"We go hiking and rock climbing nude at De Anza, which is really fun," she said. "The people at De Anza tend to be older than at the beach. Many of them are retired, and they use naturism as an easy way to simplify their lives. They spend less money and have a lot less possessions. Just think about all the clothes they don't need."

Technically, the nudists at most parks and resorts are nudists, but not necessarily naturists, while those at Black's Beach are both. It's like this: all naturists are nudists, but not every nudist is a naturist, because naturists enjoy being nude in nature. Nudists, in general, practice nudity in any setting, natural or not.

And then there's the poor naturalist. The words sound similar, but naturalism has nothing to do with naturism; naturalists simply study and enjoy nature, regardless of what anyone is or isn't wearing.

So let's divert our eyes from the naturists for a moment to observe how any naturalist could have a field day at Black's Beach. The sandstone cliffs above Black's are too unstable for rock climbing, but their softness has allowed the wind and rain to shape them into sinuous designs. Between the caves and curves and brilliant reddish color, the cliffs at Black's are reason enough to explore this unique beach.

And perhaps it's the large offshore reef or the protection of the cliffs, but I've routinely seen more strange and beautiful birds and sea beasts at Black's than anywhere else in town. Sand dollars, stingrays, terns, sandpipers, pelicans, gulls, dolphins, seals, squid, jellyfish, starfish, squirrels, chipmunks, and even, in among the cliffs, the occasional lizard or snake. And above the cliffs, of course, the rarest pine tree in the United States -- the Torrey pine -- lives and thrives.

As you might expect, Black's also offers terrific fishing. Martin Donnelly was out surf-casting one morning, au naturel, and pulling in some good-sized spot-fin croakers. One fish was about four or five pounds. "You can get corvina here year-round," Donnelly told me. "Ocean perch too. You catch 'em on the incoming tide." I asked him what he was going to do with his impressive stringer of fish. "I'll filet them and sauté the meat in butter, lemon, garlic, salt and pepper, and maybe some chardonnay," he said. "But I hardly cook it very much. It's so fresh. Really you could eat it raw."

And did Donnelly always fish nude?

"Whenever I can," he said. "Why not?"


Let's be honest.

You go to a regular, "clothed" beach in San Diego, and you see hundreds of young, athletic, beautiful, toned, taut bodies in bathing suits. But then you go to Black's Beach, and you see older, saggier, flabbier, more wrinkly bodies in the buff.

What gives?

How come the ones who should be proudest of their bodies are the most self-conscious, and those who should maybe be the most self-conscious are parading around perfectly carefree?

"Well, that's the American media," Kellersch said, presumably exempting Europe from my observation. "Because they really try to create this body image that nobody can actually achieve. Because Americans are made to believe that they have to have an ideal body and live up to models who are airbrushed on the cover of magazines. But that's an illusion. Nobody actually looks like that. And it's totally impossible. The female models are malnourished and unhealthy, really. And the men are huge and full of muscles. And all of that puts an incredible pressure on people to conform to some kind of impossible beauty ideal. It makes women think things like, 'Oh, no, before anyone sees me naked, I have to lose at least ten pounds.' You know. It's not good to have this kind of body consciousness."

So nudists are cool with their bodies, no matter how frumpy -- or so magazines have taught us -- those honest bodies look; and the rest of us want to look better, no matter how universally pleasant the magazines have made our figures seem. Hmm.

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Of all the sand in San Diego, one strand wins mythic status. Most of the place is inside a state park, it runs along a length of two miles walled by 300-foot bluffs, and it boasts a historic gliderport, the country's raddest shorebreak, and a famously flouted taboo. The name alone rings like something out of Pirates of the Caribbean: Black's Beach. The first time you see it, you're either 300 feet above it or miles away. It's that scenic. From above, the ocean stretches into blue haze, and from the shores of La Jolla Cove or the Children's Pool, the cliffs of Black's furl like a reddish banner in the distance. The treacherous scramble down those cliffs turns slow and strenuous coming back up. Or you can park a mile away and walk, walk, walk, squinting over hot sand. One commodity afforded by the inaccessibility of Black's Beach is privacy. You have to earn your way down.

As a result, almost everything about the place is more carefree, more natural, and more uninhibited than anywhere else in San Diego.

Including, of course, the people.

Folks call Lloyd Johnson, 44, "the mayor" of Black's Beach. The reference is only slightly tongue-in-cheek. In 2000, Johnson set up a website, began publishing a periodic newsletter, and started policing Black's and keeping the sand clean with a few of his friends, "the Black's Beach Bares." They hoisted a flag to represent their crowd, and they went about claiming an area of the beach and organizing activities for other like-minded beachgoers. And on any given summer Sunday, among the hundred or so Bares and friends who might be tanning, barbecuing, horseshoeing, volleyballing, or chatting on Black's, you'll detect very few stitches of clothing covering any parts of them.

"We tend to regard the clothed with suspicion," Johnson said. "But it isn't really discrimination."

As Johnson talked to me, I was sporting baggy beach shorts. And -- although I tried not to linger on this very fact -- Johnson's johnson hung there in full view.

I asked the man to advise me on how to better look at nudity.

"You look, you see, you move on," Johnson said, sounding like some postmodern naturist Julius Caesar. "And when you're done looking someone up and down, the mystery's all gone. There's no need to go over it again. Then you can look each other in the eye and talk to each other."


Though commonly referred to as the most renowned nude beach in the United States, Black's Beach has many other claims to fame.

Of the more licit activities enjoyed at Black's, the one that offers at least as much spectator enjoyment as naturism is hang gliding. The Torrey Pines Gliderport has graced the cliff-tops at Black's since 1928.

Bill Armstrong, who has instructed gliders for the past 15 years, told me matter-of-factly that the gliderport is widely considered "the Kitty Hawk of the West Coast."

"There's a lot of history here," Armstrong said. "It's a national landmark."

But wasn't he promoting a dangerous sport?

"No, not at all," Armstrong said. He sounded as if he were floating somewhere above me, almost wholly disinterested. "It's as safe as driving a car." And then he added, "Actually, it's probably safer. It's three-dimensional up there, whereas a car is only two-dimensional. It's pretty easy to stay out of trouble."

In fact, I found that no fatalities had been reported at the gliderport in recent memory, and no serious injuries or accidents had occurred in at least the past 20 years.

And how did gliding feel?

"Beautiful, complacent, free, very nice," Armstrong said. "It's not an extreme sport. It's a natural, biological sense, the sense of flight. And even after you land you feel completely different than you've ever felt before. It's something you can't feel any other way, knowing what it's like to fly. You can't get that feeling in an airplane or any other mechanical device."


"Free."

"A natural, biological sense."

Curious, but nudists speak of nudism in much the same way, it seems, as gliding instructors speak of gliding.

"It feels righteous."

"It just feels better. More natural."

And nudists say other things about their, um, "sport" as well:

"The sun hits you places you never knew you had."

"You totally forget you're naked. Other than the fact that it's much freer and you don't feel constricted in your clothes."

"It becomes a routine. You get used to it. And then you feel less comfortable when you go back to wearing clothes."

Aside from "the mayor," two other individuals are mentioned on the website for the Black's Beach Bares. With Johnson, call them the senior cabinet members of the naturist contingent at Black's.

Dave Cole, 43, is an area representative for the Naturist Education Foundation and represents the West Coast as one of six people on the Membership Advisory Committee of the Naturist Society. And Claudia Kellersch, 41, who was born in Germany, in Bavaria, and grew up there, is a Naturist Action Committee and also Naturist Education Foundation representative for the Bares.

Kellersch, Johnson, and Cole all display something vaguely nymphlike, elfin, and gently mischievous about their demeanors and facial expressions, which I found curious, since even good-natured mischievousness usually indicates that a person has something to hide. Maybe these naturists cloak their nudism often enough in everyday society that they still seem sprightly when they can't hide anything at all.

"We usually refer to the Black's Beach Bares as 'a group of friends dedicated to preserving the beach's clothing-optional status by educating visitors of the boundaries of the clothing-optional section as well as about proper nude-beach behavior,' " Cole said. "We're a loose-knit group of beachgoers who have adopted this beach as our own. We want it to be a clean, safe, and fun beach for everybody to enjoy."

"We call this nude recreation," Kellersch told me. "Free body culture. The German word is Freikörperkultur. This is how it's known throughout Europe. At European beaches, you'll see the abbreviation F.K.K. And then you know there's a nude beach."

I asked Kellersch how F.K.K. in Europe differed from nude recreation here in the States.

"In Europe, nude recreation is more of a family affair," Kellersch said. "The whole families go, the people are much younger than here, and you see all ages -- young kids, high school students, college students, everybody. Because it's a very inexpensive, easy way to have a sports experience, get a suntan, and just hang out."


The first time I ever went to a nude beach, ten years ago in Antibes, in the south of France, I (fully clothed) walked over to an "interesting" spot (near hordes of topless women) and stood there and gaped through sunglasses. "If only in America," I thought.

After a minute, one particularly picturesque young lady popped up off her blanket and started up the strand toward me. She was swaying, striding and smiling, unhurried, and carrying something in one of her hands.

As she approached me, stuff got suddenly deliberate, like everything decelerating into slow motion. With every advancing step, this exposed young beauty convinced me: she was walking all this way just to chat. With yours truly!

At the last moment, I looked her full in the face. We both smiled. She was an arm's length away from me now. I could smell her suntan lotion. And she reached up slowly and extended her hand...just past me? I shifted my weight.

And then, like that, she spun around -- no words exchanged -- and sauntered slowly back the length of the beach.

She'd been throwing away a candy wrapper; I was standing in front of a garbage can.


In Europe, it's always possible to spot plenty of flesh. Besides the clothing-optional beaches and crazy nightclubs, there's ample nudity all over TV. By the end of a week or two over there, I don't care much about butts and boobies anymore: they're everywhere. It ain't no big thing. And it occurs to me that it just seems so much healthier that way. The less we leave to the imagination, the less the imagination needs to lash out and create its own lurid details.

But where did our nudity taboo come from? Did we just get used to wearing clothes for practical reasons, because it was cold or because the sun was too intense? Or did it have something to do with sexism and the subjugation of women, where men in patriarchal societies decided that they had to cover their females to keep the eyes of other men from seeing too much?

(Remember, the first thing God said to Adam after Eve ate the apple was, "Where were you?"

And Adam answered, "I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself."

And ever since, we've witnessed our own natural-born state as something private and naughty and needing to be veiled. We tried to "improve" Michelangelo's David, for art's sakes!)

Nowadays, in our culture, most nudity is either private or specifically intended for consumption. But the nudity of a nudist isn't like those other nudities; although public, it isn't intended for gazing enjoyment, nor for sex.

Nudists would have us believe that they're nude because they enjoy being nude, and that's it. They don't want to show off, and they don't want to be looked at.

But that doesn't mean other people don't try to feast their eyes.

Nudists call these ogling opportunists "gawkers."

(For the record, journalists aren't gawkers, though our behaviors are similar. In fact, our behaviors are identical: we lurk and sniff around, watching things closely while our minds churn a mile a minute. We maintain our distance. Our presence makes people uncomfortable, to the point that many folks act differently whenever we're around.

But it's the intention, and the intention alone, that condemns the gawker and saves the journalist. The gawker gawks solely for his own selfish enjoyment. The journalist gawks so he can tell everyone else about it.)

Dave Cole coached me on how to recognize a gawker.

"It's pretty easy to spot body language," Cole half-joked. "Especially when someone's body is fully exposed."

He paused for effect. "But okay. One common thing is somebody's walking down the beach with no clothes on, but he's carrying all of his clothes under his arm. So he's not set up anywhere. And then he'll focus on someone, usually a woman, and he's focused on her so much that he starts stumbling over people, trying to find a place to sit down near her. And then he'll just sit and stare. Won't do anything, won't say a word to her, but just stare. And a lot of times he'll sit at a woman's feet. And he'll face the water, with his back to her, and then, eventually, he'll decide, 'Well, it's time to roll over,' and then he lies on his stomach, and he's got the perfect view."

Standard procedure for the Bares when they catch a gawker getting overly inappropriate is to approach him and serve him with a flyer. This long piece of paper thoroughly outlines the penalties for illegal beach conduct and suggests a better beach etiquette. At one point, Johnson bounded up off his towel -- mumbling angrily -- reached into a bag for one of these informational flyers, and marched with purpose over to some nearby reclining fellow.

Returning to his towel, Johnson looked me in the eye and proclaimed, "There's your story right there."

He went on, "That guy was playing with himself. We've decided it's best not to say anything to people like that. We empower each other to confront lewd people, but we don't want to get into fights. Instead, we let them know that we've seen what they're doing and that they won't get away with it. We're not going to just ignore them and let them have their fun. We give them the paper, and we walk away."

Kellersch let me in on another defense against gawkers.

"Sometimes, we put up a vision block between the woman and the gawker," Kellersch said. "And these are just pieces of canvas. They're on little bamboo sticks. Also, we invite women, when we see single women on the beach, to come and sit with our group, because there's safety in numbers. There's lots of couples, families with small children, and we're just a larger group where they can feel safe."

The Black's Beach Bares have amusing names for many of the gawkers they've picked out repeatedly over the years. Linus (always with his towel over his shoulder), Poco (a small Hispanic fellow), Humpy (needs no explanation), Sniffer (sniffing for ladies), Señor Libro (with his book upside-down, never turning the pages), Gawk-a-mole, Robo-man, Swisher, and so on.

Johnson stressed to me that just because masturbation might go on at a nude beach, this perversion shouldn't implicate all naturists. "A few months ago," Johnson said, "I read where they caught a guy jacking off in a library. They arrested the guy. They didn't close the library."


A partial list of summer reading, summer eating, and summer drinking at Black's Beach:

-- Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris

-- Chosen Prey, John Sandford

-- Trading Up, Candace Bushnell

-- People magazine

-- New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle

-- Fuji apples

-- Peanuts

-- Almonds

-- Green grapes

-- Apricots

-- Roast beef sandwich

-- Peaches

-- Miller Genuine Draft

-- Keystone Light

-- Ice tea

-- Water


"Black's Beach is a small section of Torrey Pines State Beach," Cole told me. I'd asked him if he could relate anything about the place's vaunted history.

"There was a gentleman who lived up in the La Jolla Farms area whose name was William Black. He owned all the land up there in what's now the La Jolla Farms area. And everybody referred to the area below it as Black's Beach. That's how it got the name."

What about the story that the beach got its name because of its blackish sand?

"That's a myth," Cole said. "It might have something to do with it, with how the name stuck in people's minds. But from what I've been able to find out, this is the beach that was under the property of William Black. Although it's never been officially designated Black's Beach. The part that goes north is Torrey Pines State Beach. And to the south is Torrey Pines City Beach. Black's Beach is just a local nickname."

Next I asked Cole about the beach's history as a nudist paradise.

"In the '70s, for three years, it was actually on the books, legal, to be nude at Black's Beach," Cole began. "And then the law was rescinded because there was no beach access, there was one road, and beachgoers were parking in people's yards and urinating on private property, all kinds of problems, and this was a rich neighborhood above the beach, full of people with influence in city council. And they got the law rescinded."

Cole went on, "But we operate now under what's called the Cahill Policy. Russell Cahill was a state parks director in the '70s, and there was a landmark case where a guy was arrested for sunbathing nude. And Cahill decided that rather than enforce this benign problem, he brought this policy that's still in existence today. Basically it says that any state park land that's been traditionally used for clothing-optional activities can continue to be used as such unless somebody makes a complaint."

But even that's a gray area.

Cole said, "If somebody comes here, and they're offended by the nudity, they can go to the Torrey Pines park rangers and file a complaint, and then the rangers could come down to the beach and ask everybody to get dressed for the rest of that day. And then things go back to normal. It's happened before, actually. It happened this year. They found a guy way beyond the clothing-optional border, way up north, and they cited him and then came down the beach, and from what we understand, they found three or four people on the beach who were nude -- it was cold -- and they told everybody to get dressed, and they did."

Public indecency carries fines that begin around $156 and go all the way up to $483, and, presumably, jail time for multiple or serious offenses.

"We've been trying to get the park rangers to define the border of the clothing-optional beach for us," Cole said. "Because how can you cite somebody for being on the wrong side of the border if you can't determine what the border is? But if they recognize a border, then they'd also be saying that nudity is okay on a part of the beach, and nobody in the city government or the state wants to go that far. As it stands, the nudity's not legal, but it's tolerated on the state-beach section. So we put up boundaries ourselves, the Bares, so that people know where to go and where not to go. If nudity offends them, then all they have to do is stay outside the boundary."


South of where nearly everyone's wearing the emperor's new clothes, around a bend in the cliffs and down the strand a half mile or so, you're sure to catch that old familiar San Diego sight of surfers paddling and angling into waves.

The website surfline.com calls Black's Beach "the best beachbreak in the country" and rates the surf an 8 out of 10. Other surf centers rate Black's as highly, or even higher.

Nick Carbonne, 32, has been on longboards and shortboards in San Diego since 1992. "I learned to surf in Pacific Beach," he said. "But we used to hit Black's Beach a lot when I was a kid. There wasn't a crowd element, and it usually was pretty big."

Now Carbonne avoids Black's for the same reasons that he used to like to go there. "It's out of the way, and it's kind of a hassle," he said. "And now that I've gotten older, I've gotten into riding longer boards, and I'm not into getting barreled and hammered out there as much as when I was a kid. Paddling back out past the waves is really tough at Black's because there's no channel and you just have to battle."

But sometimes, Carbonne still likes to drag out the shortboard and test his surfing mettle.

"The waves at Black's can get really hollow on big days. You know, you can get in the tube. I mean, the place can hold size. With the right conditions, Black's is unbelievable."

Sergeant John Vipond is the head city lifeguard at Black's. His mobile unit -- no permanent guard structure graces this beach -- is set up in front of the best, and only official, surf spot. Vipond gazed out to sea and told me that 500 surfers a day might ride the swells in the summer months. "Plus," he said, "there might be another 5000 people coming down the cliffs to enjoy the beach," and he gestured to his right, to the north. "We've got the most water with the fewest guards in San Diego. But that's the job. It's a big responsibility."

Betsy Malloy at About.com estimates that almost 50 topless beaches exist in California today, "where nudity or topless sunbathing is allowed or tolerated," but not one of them boasts even half as many regular visitors as Black's. Black's is, in fact, the largest and most popular nude beach in the United States. It's also, in all probability, one of the oldest. World-renowned oceanographer Walter Munk reports that when he arrived at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 1939, the locals called the place Bare Ass Beach.

Vipond told me that six guards patrol the beach in high summer, and only two guards make the rounds in winter. Besides the mobile trailer with first-aid facilities at the south end of the beach, their equipment includes a tent, fold-up chairs, an ATV, a jet ski, and a jeep. There's also a lifeguard with binoculars and a walkie-talkie in an elevated chair at the top of the bluffs, precisely one long 300-foot freefall from interceding in any trouble.

One of the unusual aspects of being a lifeguard at Black's is the possibility of having to help in cliff rescues. "People have fallen and gotten stuck up in the bluffs," Vipond said, squinting through sunglasses up at the wall of rock behind us. "And we're trained to go up and get them."

But the lifeguards aren't in it alone. Since two-thirds of Black's Beach is state property -- and in a state reserve -- the majority of the beach is under the jurisdiction of the park rangers.

Jody Kummer, the supervising park ranger in Torrey Pines State Reserve, told me that four full-time rangers patrol the park.

"But we don't watch Black's as much as we do the rest of the park," Kummer said. "Simply because the other portion of the park is a lot more used. We get about 80 percent more visitation north of Flat Rock than we do south of it on Black's Beach."

Kummer told me that Torrey Pines State Reserve averages 1.6 million guests per year.

"On a weekend summer day," Kummer said, "we'll get thousands of visitors on the beach. But dealing with problems in the water is mostly the responsibility of the lifeguards. If there's a problem on Black's, it's about six miles from the office here in the park just to get to the beach, and then it's another one or two miles up the sand just to get to where we have to get to. So it's a long process. That's why we don't overly patrol, because then when my staff gets there, they're gone for over two hours. It pulls the resources out of the park where the majority of park visitors are."

I asked Kummer how her rangers dealt with the nudism on Black's.

"The department has a policy," she said, "that unless we get a complaint regarding the naturists and their lack of clothing, then we won't dedicate any resources to controlling that. We're empowered to enforce any problems, but if no one reports anything, then we concentrate on other matters."


But where is Black's Beach, exactly?

Consistent with its mythic status, no one seems to know.

"The north end of Black's is easiest to define," Sergeant Vipond said. "Bathtub Rock, or what the park rangers call Flat Rock, juts out all the way into the waterline, and that's pretty much the north end of Black's Beach. Then you come down, down, all the way past the main route down to the beach, which we call Citizen's Trail. The nude boundary line is about 100 yards south of Citizen's Trail, and that's where the state beach ends too."

But Black's Beach continues onto city beach property, south. And there are two portions of the beach that are on private property, owned by the UC regents. "We'll call the UCSD police sometimes when we have problems down at this end of the beach," Vipond said.

So you've got state property, then city property, then private property, then city property again -- which runs almost a mile from the line of Black Gold Road down through Sumner Canyon and past Dyke Rock -- and then private property again.

Most folks say the southern boundary of Black's is all the way down at Scripps Pier. The nudity's tolerated on the state beach, and the surfing takes place over 1000 yards south, about a quarter mile north of the pier, on city territory near Dyke Rock.

"It's an undefined area," said Vipond. And then he laughed. "Black's Beach is more or less whatever you want it to be."


I read once where the poet Kenneth Koch said that nudity was aesthetic and nakedness was lascivious.

True?

"Often, 'naked' implies vulnerability," Johnson said. "Like, if you've been stripped. But if nudity isn't imposed -- if you choose to be nude yourself -- of course, then it's totally different. That's the key."


Bathing suits, with their bright colors and selective placements, are almost a kind of taunting advertising.

"Na-na," a swimsuit mockingly says, drawing attention to precisely what it's supposed to make disappear.

"You can't look here," swimsuits half-playfully sneer.

The naked body projects far less emphasis. From a distance, naked people look almost exactly alike. And even close up, the differences are a matter of an inch or two here, a degree of curvature there, a flap, a fold, and that's it. Bathing suits blare what the bare body barely whispers.

Johnson explained to me, "Women used to wear baggy suits to cover their figures, and now men wear baggy suits to cover their penises. But suits are so inconvenient. I watch women come out of the water, and they're constantly adjusting."

And Kellersch added what I thought was a hilarious opinion. "Look at these funny, long swimsuits that men wear now. They're, like, a meter long, and they're baggy, and they hang down, and when they're wet they look terrible. And, you know, if European men don't go nude, at least they wear Speedos and they look spiffy."

Spiffy? In a Speedo? I wanted to raise objections. Instead, I zeroed in on the one body-image issue that persists for men. I asked Kellersch to talk about penises. Men are, in fact, overly self-conscious about their penises, even when they're not self-conscious enough about their flabby abs and copious body hair. When a man takes off his bathing suit: boom! There it is, the whole nine yards. (Or the whole two yards, as it were.) Anyway, the point is, it's all on display. No more mystery.

So what case could Kellersch, as a woman, erect around this touchy subject?

"People of all sizes are together on the nude beach," she said. "I don't really notice little differences."

Alrighty then. I asked Dave Cole. Could he be frank about "franks and beans"?

"We'll joke about each other," Cole said, "once we know each other well enough. You know, someone will come out of the water, and we'll say, 'Well, looks like the water's pretty cold.' Or something like that."

Then Cole went on, "But the thing is, no one ever died of embarrassment." (Ironic, I thought, that one of the synonyms for embarrassment is the word "mortification," which comes from the same root as the word "death.") But Cole seemed right. "You invite your friend, who you've never seen naked, to come to the beach with you, and he comes, or she comes, and then you both feel awkward for a few moments, and then it passes. It doesn't matter what anyone's body looks like. You still get embarrassed, and the feeling of embarrassment still goes away. No big deal."

As for me, I decided not to test this theory. I hung out with the Bares a few times, yes, but I never really "hung out" with the Bares, if you take my meaning.

"You kept your shorts on," one nude nudist said to me after I'd been conducting interviews on the beach all day.

"For artistic distance," I stammered, in answer. "To maintain my objectivity as a journalist."


Allow me an analogy -- between firearms, on the one hand, and on the other hand, a state of total undress.

We've learned that guns don't kill people, people kill people. (But common sense also tells us that guns make killing easier.)

And we know that nudity isn't necessarily sexuality.

But it does remove one of the major barriers. Right?

Johnson said, "Most people only do two things nude: sex and bathing. So I can understand the association of nudism with sex, although that's a misconception. Nudists do almost everything nude. In fact, I do more things nude than I do clothed."

Kellersch added, "Simple nudity is harmless. It's our natural state. People who mistake nudity for sexuality need to be educated. We can't mix nudity with sexuality on the beach. It's illegal and it's immoral. If I see a man who doesn't understand the things he can't do on a nude beach, then I walk up to him and give him a copy of our nude beach etiquette. If a man has an erection, then we suggest that he either turn over or he go in the ocean until it goes away."

Now then -- to alter a famous phrase of Tolstoy's: flaccid, dangly monties are all the same, but every full one's full in its own way.


Most days in summer, a few times a day, a sightseeing helicopter buzzes the sand above Black's. One high point of the excursion, I'm sure, for most tourists, is the moment when, hearing the chopper approach, dozens of the Black's Beach Bares sprint down to the shoreline, turn around, bend over, and stick their burnished bums into the air. For his part, the helicopter pilot always playfully beeps back at the long line of tanned moons.


Claudia Kellersch was introduced to Black's as a student at San Diego State in the late '80s. Her husband is also a naturist, and they met through another local nudist group called the Camping Bares.

I asked Kellersch if she and her husband visited nudist colonies as well.

"We don't call them colonies anymore," she said. "That was maybe in the '60s. We call them naturist family parks or naturist resorts. I'm a member at De Anza Springs. It's an alternative when the weather at the beach isn't that great, because it's in the high desert. It's even nice there in January."

Is it different at the resort than at the beach?

"We go hiking and rock climbing nude at De Anza, which is really fun," she said. "The people at De Anza tend to be older than at the beach. Many of them are retired, and they use naturism as an easy way to simplify their lives. They spend less money and have a lot less possessions. Just think about all the clothes they don't need."

Technically, the nudists at most parks and resorts are nudists, but not necessarily naturists, while those at Black's Beach are both. It's like this: all naturists are nudists, but not every nudist is a naturist, because naturists enjoy being nude in nature. Nudists, in general, practice nudity in any setting, natural or not.

And then there's the poor naturalist. The words sound similar, but naturalism has nothing to do with naturism; naturalists simply study and enjoy nature, regardless of what anyone is or isn't wearing.

So let's divert our eyes from the naturists for a moment to observe how any naturalist could have a field day at Black's Beach. The sandstone cliffs above Black's are too unstable for rock climbing, but their softness has allowed the wind and rain to shape them into sinuous designs. Between the caves and curves and brilliant reddish color, the cliffs at Black's are reason enough to explore this unique beach.

And perhaps it's the large offshore reef or the protection of the cliffs, but I've routinely seen more strange and beautiful birds and sea beasts at Black's than anywhere else in town. Sand dollars, stingrays, terns, sandpipers, pelicans, gulls, dolphins, seals, squid, jellyfish, starfish, squirrels, chipmunks, and even, in among the cliffs, the occasional lizard or snake. And above the cliffs, of course, the rarest pine tree in the United States -- the Torrey pine -- lives and thrives.

As you might expect, Black's also offers terrific fishing. Martin Donnelly was out surf-casting one morning, au naturel, and pulling in some good-sized spot-fin croakers. One fish was about four or five pounds. "You can get corvina here year-round," Donnelly told me. "Ocean perch too. You catch 'em on the incoming tide." I asked him what he was going to do with his impressive stringer of fish. "I'll filet them and sauté the meat in butter, lemon, garlic, salt and pepper, and maybe some chardonnay," he said. "But I hardly cook it very much. It's so fresh. Really you could eat it raw."

And did Donnelly always fish nude?

"Whenever I can," he said. "Why not?"


Let's be honest.

You go to a regular, "clothed" beach in San Diego, and you see hundreds of young, athletic, beautiful, toned, taut bodies in bathing suits. But then you go to Black's Beach, and you see older, saggier, flabbier, more wrinkly bodies in the buff.

What gives?

How come the ones who should be proudest of their bodies are the most self-conscious, and those who should maybe be the most self-conscious are parading around perfectly carefree?

"Well, that's the American media," Kellersch said, presumably exempting Europe from my observation. "Because they really try to create this body image that nobody can actually achieve. Because Americans are made to believe that they have to have an ideal body and live up to models who are airbrushed on the cover of magazines. But that's an illusion. Nobody actually looks like that. And it's totally impossible. The female models are malnourished and unhealthy, really. And the men are huge and full of muscles. And all of that puts an incredible pressure on people to conform to some kind of impossible beauty ideal. It makes women think things like, 'Oh, no, before anyone sees me naked, I have to lose at least ten pounds.' You know. It's not good to have this kind of body consciousness."

So nudists are cool with their bodies, no matter how frumpy -- or so magazines have taught us -- those honest bodies look; and the rest of us want to look better, no matter how universally pleasant the magazines have made our figures seem. Hmm.

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