For the record, I’m not a nudist. I feel too fat, am too vain; and in my mind, way too hairy. Besides, like most Americans, I’ve got a secret puritan lurking deep inside my liberal DNA.
Yet for some reason nudity keeps inserting itself into my professional life.
To supplement my freelance journalism work, I once provided media consulting to the late Will Walters. Will was the young San Diegan who took his life in 2016 after losing a prolonged court battle aiming to hold accountable five police officers who, at the 2011 LGBT Pride festival, arrested him for nudity, even though he had on a leather kilt and underwear when the cops nabbed him. (The city attorney declined to prosecute.)
I assumed I’d written my last article about nudity after Will hanged himself. But a year-and-a-half later — with Will gone and the lead defendant in his case now elevated to San Diego’s police chief — I find myself writing on a subject with nudism at its core: Black’s Beach.
Not a Naturist
René Torres, 35, says he’s a nudist. He first went to Black’s Beach in 2009. “It was with a friend while I was here on vacation; Black’s Beach was my first tourist spot in San Diego,” he tells me. “I had heard about it when I was in San Francisco and Miami.”
Torres is now a local. He’s a straight-up nudist — not a naturist. He explains the difference: “Naturists are more in tune with nature and hiking and being with and a part of nature,” he says. “That’s not me. For me being nude is personal — not about nature or the wilderness. It’s about being vulnerable and transparent.”
According to Torres, both nudists and naturists disrobe for reasons that are more spiritual than sexual. “Once you are actually undressed it’s no longer sexual,” he says. “Getting undressed is sexual. But being undressed in public for a while removes almost all the sexual tension and all sexual intention. It probably removes sexual attention too. You just feel like you’re you — nakedly yourself.”
Secluded section of beach beneath the bluffs of Torrey Pines, La Jolla
Still, there’s no denying sex is part of the scene at Black’s.
Craigslist shut down its Casual Encounters platform in late March, citing a law Congress recently passed, which the company says now makes the legal risks of running hookup ads too high. Regardless, you can still find artifacts of recent Casual Encounters ads online. They come in the form or Google search results with remnant descriptions that lead only to dead hyperlinks.
Among the remaining digital breadcrumbs are these from would-be Black’s Beach sex seekers…
- Mar 9: would love some fun company to hang with. 420/beer - m4ww 45 (Blacks Beach) pic; Mar 9: Let’s Swap H*ad in La Jolla for Lunch - m4m 41 (Blacks Beach / Hanglider Port); Jul 8: 20s couple looking to go to Blacks Beach and have fun around the city...
I may be the most clueless gay guy in San Diego, but a couple of visits to Black’s Beach did nothing to unveil to my eyes how the logistics of a sexual encounter, gay, straight or solitary could be pulled off. My best friend, whom I dragged along with me the second time I went, laid it out.
“Are you kidding?” he said sounding dubious about my ignorance. “They go in the water or in the bushes — jeez; grow up.”
The Ho Chi Minh Trail
It’s Easter Sunday. I’m at the top of Ho Chi Minh Trail above Black’s Beach with my best friend, Christopher Garcia, 35, who is possibly the world’s crankiest Millennial. He’s mad because he had to drive. He’s also pissed off there was nothing we vegetarians could eat at the barbeque place we just left but potato salad. It doesn’t help that I’m working during our beach day at Black’s. Unmoved, I begin looking for people to interview as we hike down the goat trail just south of Torrey Pines Gliderport’s dusty parking lot.
“You know, we’ve been down here before,” Christopher says. “Remember? When Jesse’s sister was visiting.”
It all comes back to me. A few years ago, our friend Jesse’s sister was visiting San Diego from a very small, very conservative town in Kansas. We drove her around La Jolla, ending up at the gliderport.
Showing an out-of-towner some local scenic beauty, we had driven around Torrey Pines State Reserve, UCSD’s North Campus, then south into the tony residential neighborhood of La Jolla Farms — ending up near the Salk Institute and the Torrey Pines Gliderport’s unpaved parking lot at the west end of Torrey Pines Scenic Drive, just off of North Torrey Pines Road.
We had been drawn to the we’re in today by the brightly colored wings of unpowered aircraft lilting in the clear air above the coastline. Back then, a spontaneous walk had turned into an impromptu and unexpectedly treacherous hike down a “goat trail” to a beach below the gliderport.
None of us realized then that nearby, just to the south of us accessible via La Jolla Farms Road right at the bend where the leafy street becomes Blackgold Road was a more famous hiking destination. “Ho Chi Minh Trail” is what locals have called it for decades. Now a movement to change that trail’s name to “Saigon Trail” appears to be succeeding.
Whatever you want to call it, that trail is the most celebrated of the several leading to San Diego’s nude beach.
By the time we’d arrived on the sand that day a few years back, Christopher had realized where we were. I still had had no idea. Though her stride seemed to hitch just a tad, our friend Jesse’s 23-year-old sister didn’t say a word or flinch as we moseyed along the surf just in time to encounter a completely nude man in his late 50s or early 60s emerging from a brush-shrouded spot. He and an equally nude woman of approximately the same age were camped out to sunbathe.