With every summer I get very excited about the idea of going to the beach, but then find September comes and I've made it there maybe twice, and my winter pale has gone from an eggshell to an off-white hue. This summer I was determined would be different, and so attempted to make beach plans for every weekend of June.
One friend was very excited about going but asked, "Can we go to the nude beach?" I deferred an answer for about a week. I've always been curious about nude beaches—who goes to there? Are they secluded, romantic places? Are they sketchy? And I knew that if I went to a nude beach, it'd be all about going full-nude. Going topless is not even a thing anymore, particularly since it's legal in NYC (thank you feminists of the 90's!).
I did some research as to the nudie options around New York. Sadly for the local naturists, the options are few and far between. Another friend had pointed me to Lighthouse Beach, part of Fire Island that can also be accessed through Robert Moses, but apparently the government decided to remove its clothing-optional rights post-Superstorm Sandy (what the correlation is, I have no idea). The thought of being handed a ticket from a police officer whilst fully naked does not appeal to me.
The only other nudie beach that is remotely close is Gunnison Beach on Sandy Hook in New Jersey. There are ferries that leave lower Manhattan that go to Sandy Hook, and from where it lands you can take a bus to the beach of your choice. But the idea of taking the train all the way down to the tip of Manhattan, to take a not-cheap ferry, to take a bus, while carrying all of our beach stuff, again did not appeal to me. So we drove.
The drive is surprisingly long—about two hours. As the crow flies it's not a far distance, but you have to drive into New Jersey, down to the base of the peninsula of Sandy Hook, and then back up to its tip. I was fairly disappointed when we got to the beach and someone pointed out the city to me, and I looked over my left shoulder to see it looming as big as if I were in Bensonhurst. Oh well. At least the long drive had made me feel like I was going on a trip, and I certainly was in a new environment!
It's a fairly long walk from the boardwalk to the waterfront. At the midway point of that walk, you come across a sign that says, "Beyond This Point You May Encounter Nude Sunbathers." This is your first inkling that it's about to get real because the boardwalk looks like any boardwalk (including families with little kids…mostly foreign). As you approach the throng of people closer to the shorefront—because it really is a crowded beach—you still don't notice much out of place. That is, until you look to your right, where you see another warning sign—beyond which there are tons of naked bodies.
The nudists seem to have been corralled into the center of the beach, so that the edges are still clothing mandatory. Obviously, most people are in this central area because anyone that's made the trek to this beach has done it for a reason.
So, who's there? It's really a mixed bag of young and old (though I didn't see anyone really elderly—mostly middle-aged); really buff guys on their own; young, attractive couples; older couples that seem to be regulars, with privacy barricades around them, coolers, music…and no tan lines. There was one man who had set up a tiki bar from which he was giving out free tropical cocktails! He's not allowed to charge legally, and he seemed to be doing it just to be social.
In fact, the vibe was very social in general. There was a volleyball game going on behind the crowd, and groups of people drinking beers in the thick of it who seemed to have all met up there. What I found noticeable about these people is that they looked so normal; these were regular New York/New Jersey gals and guys you could see anywhere, with thick accents, gold chains, and tube socks pulled up from their white sneakers—just with no other clothes on. (It was kind of like when you see parents do fun things that you and your friends do, and you have that moment of, "Wait. They do that??" followed by, "Oh right. They're people too.")
Was it sketchy? No, it felt pretty safe. There were a few clothed people (men, mostly) who were standing around, looking at people as they talked, which makes you feel a little uncomfortable in a self-conscious way, but not in a threatening way. There was one man that I noticed walking around a lot who one would think is an orthodox Jew when looking at him from the neck up, but below the neck he was wearing only a hot pink, metallic, banana-hammock, with its sides pulled up to his hip bones.
There was one man who was allegedly taking pictures of a young, attractive couple as they lay unaware, but he was called out by my favorite gold-chained good ol' boy and publicly shamed until he decided to leave. Then the hero turned back to his friends and talked about the incident for the next five minutes, saying, "That's what you gotta do with these guys. You gotta call them out. These perverts coming to our beach…" (It's best if you read that with the accent.)
As for being fully nude on the beach, I loved it! (You might say that I was "hooked." Ha ha ha.) Once you get past that initial disrobing and settle in, you feel just like you're tanning at the beach normally. In fact, you feel oddly less self-conscious because you're not worried about if your suit is cutting you in a way that makes you look fat. (My male friend said that he felt the same way.)
The water there is very calm, with little waves for jumping and diving, and again I noticed how freeing it felt that I could bob a wave and not have to check to see if my boob popped out of my top. I have since gone to a regular beach and noticed how often I have to do that when playing in the water. We women take that as a fact of life and don't pay it much mind, but how glorious it feels when that isn't a concern and to be able to just enjoy the waves!
The only downside to this beach that I noticed at the end of the day was all of the garbage. People just left their trash—cans, plastic bags, wrappers—where they had sat. I saw a seagull standing inside of a plastic bag, pecking at its remnants maybe 20 yards from the water, and it reminded me of that 1970's PSA with the American Indian crying. I was absolutely shocked that at a state beach people would be so reckless in preserving the very thing they came to enjoy. But then I realized that there were no garbage cans anywhere—not on the beach, not at the boardwalk, and not even in the bathrooms. Those that did take their garbage off of the beach left it piled-high outside of the bathrooms—or on top of the bathroom sink counters. (I wrote the parks department to find out what's the deal, but I haven't heard back yet.)
Disappointing as the litter situation was, I still left the beach wanting to go back. The friendliness and the freedom I felt are uncommon in these parts, and it's worth packing out some trash.