Legendary Wreck Beach held plenty of allure to a 19-year-old Mary Jean Dunsdon, new to Vancouver from Kamloops.
Over the next two decades, Dunsdon became Watermelon, a fixture on Canada’s most famous clothing-optional beach hawking watermelons and other edibles.
But the beach she loves so much for its natural beauty and sense of community is changing, she said, and naturists like her are dwindling.
“We’re an endangered species,” said Watermelon from her licorice store on Commercial Drive. From a 50-50 split in the early 1990s, the number of “textiles,” (Wreck Beach lingo for clothed people) has increased to about 70 per cent in recent years. “We’ve become the minority,” she said.
In the 1970s, beachgoers would get to the bottom of 400-odd wooden stairs on Trail 6 and immediately shed their clothes, said Watermelon. Not many do anymore.
Judy Williams of the Wreck Beach Preservation Society pegs the ratio at about 60-40 in favour for clothed beachgoers. But since a massive beach party organized on Facebook drew about 14,000 partygoers to the beach on July 1, the presence of “textiles” is even more prominent.
Why someone would want to come to a nude beach and not strip baffles Williams. She stressed the beach is a public space and open to everyone but “there’s a code of etiquette down here.”
It’s not the clothes that rile her; it’s the gawking, cameras, and body judgment that sometimes accompany those who are clad.
Williams has heard comments first hand. She and a friend were called “Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus” by a group of snickering clothed young men, while another group ranked her a zero on the Bo Derek scale, she recalled.
“It’s appalling, this attitude toward the naked human body,” said Williams. There is no place for body shaming at the beach, she said. “Here they see old people, they see infirm people, they see them as they are, and they learn not to become judgmental.”
Williams, a staunch defender of Wreck Beach since 1969, said gawkers, including tourists disgorged from large buses who trip down the stairs to point and shoot photos, and camera-phone use are an increasing problem. The society is mulling putting no-camera signs on the trail, said Williams.
Despite being outnumbered on Wreck Beach, naturists seem to be flourishing elsewhere in Metro Vancouver.
Don Pitcairn, president of Surrey’s United Naturists, said there has been a couple of times this summer he and his wife couldn’t find a spot for their blanket on Crescent Rock Beach, a quiet, isolated stretch of beach west of Ocean Park in South Surrey.
Before the beach gained attention as a naturist’s haven in 2007, there was only a handful of nude sunbathers regularly scattered in the area.
It attracts naturists from across the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley who go there instead of making the long drive to Wreck before paying for parking then trudging down the 400-plus steps — which some older folks might be loath to do, Pitcairn said. Many naturists also head to the east end of Barnston Island on the Fraser River, he added.