Volume XVII, Issue 29 # July 16 - July 22, 2009

Skin and Bare It

Crownsville nudists break misconceptions and world records

by Diana Beechener

The gate to Pine Tree pulls back, revealing a group of men chatting in the sunlight. Dog walkers pass by on their way to the park, waving to golf-cart riders. In the campgrounds, people barbecue and listen to music. In the main office, bored workers stand at a copier.

Everyone just happens to be naked.

“When you come here, there’s one of two things: You’re either going to be very comfortable — or there’s sometimes a moment of hesitation,” explains Jim R., a 17-year member of Crownsville’s 75-year-old colony for people at ease in undressing to enjoy social nudism.

Taking the Plunge

As a private citizen, I have a strict no-nudity policy. In preparation for my visit to Pine Tree, I discovered that many people shared my policy — and my curiosity about those who don’t.

Are they naked all the time? Do they wear jewelry? What about shoes? Do they hug? How do they play sports? Do they sit on the same chairs?

On July 11, Pine Tree’s members invited the others — who they call the textile society — in to find the answers. Visitors were welcome to take the plunge into social nudism by stripping down and joining the American Association for Nude Recreation in setting a Guinness record for skinny-dipping.

“This is a brand-new record,” says publicist Sandy Desautels. “We know a lot of our members will participate. The national organization would like to attract people who think it will be really cool to break a world record.”

Record-making wasn’t limited to one site. The national American Association for Nude Recreation designated 127 sites throughout America and Canada for the skinny-dip. Crowds in the hundreds were expected at New Jersey’s Sandy Hook Beach. According to Guinness rules, skinny-dippers don’t need to be at the same location, just in the water at the same time. So West Coasters took the plunge at noon, while East Coasters dipped at three in the afternoon.

Before the plunge into Pine Tree’s pool, all-comers were invited to visit and learn the truth beyond the taboo of nude recreation.

“It’s interesting to entice new people that have kind of thought about it and push them over the edge,” says Desautels.

The precipice has a steep drop-off. Unlike the nearby Maryland Health Society at Davidsonville, which is a clothing-optional colony, Pine Tree requires all guests to be naked while on the grounds. The point of the rule, and the dip, is to show visitors how normal nude recreation can be.

“I think people view skinny-dipping differently [than nude recreation],” Desautels says. “So I think that it’s trying to bring those people into the fold to see that it isn’t that different.”

Saturday, 267 people embraced the buff and joined the world-record count in Crownsville.

Though being bare was required for all non-media visitors at Pine Tree, being exposed was not. Pink arm bands were worn by skinny-dippers who preferred to keep themselves out of Bay Weekly’s camera range. The club also protects its members with stringent camera policies, requiring authorization for all photos.

There were lots of pink armbands.

Stripping Away the Stigma

“One of the big misconceptions is that we all have two heads and we’re freaky,” says Jim. A middle-aged former sailor, he sports an Orioles cap and tennis shoes and sits on a towel he totes everywhere. “We’re a campground,” he corrects.

He’s right. After the initial shock, Pine Tree seems almost like any other campground, filled with the smell of grilled food, laughter of playing children and cheers from the tennis courts.

Acclimatization takes about 10 minutes.

“Body acceptance is key to a healthy nudist society,” Jim says. “We accept everyone — tall, short, skinny, fat, one-legged, one-armed; you see everyone.”

Pine Tree Associates is an established gathering place for the nudist community. The year-round club and 90-acre wooded campground was founded in 1934, originally chartered by the American Sunbathing Association.

Nude recreation clubs typically run during the warmer months. Pine Tree is hardy, hosting winter activities from New Year’s Eve dances to Thanksgiving feasts to chili cook-offs.

How do nudists cope with winter weather?

The same way everyone else does.

“Nudists enjoy social nudity — weather permitting,” says Jim. “If it gets cold, we get dressed. If it rains, we cover up. It’s not that we’re against wearing clothes. We just enjoy being nude when we can.”

Another common misconception, he says, is that social nudists are exhibitionists who want to share their nudism with the world.

“Nudists respect each other’s anonymity tremendously,” says Jim, who like everyone else I spoke to Saturday wanted his full name kept out of the story. “We divulge only the amount of information we want to divulge.”

Enjoying nude recreation is tougher than it sounds. Clubs, beaches and locales that welcome nudity usually require a trek. Pools can be rented for special events, but many social nudists take nakations in the Caribbean, where nude beaches are common.

“Surprisingly, Anne Arundel County has two nudist clubs,” Jim says. “There are some states that don’t have any. There are not a lot of social nudist venues around. We have a lot of our members come from southern Pennsylvania, Delaware, northern Virginia and western Virginia. Some of our members drive a couple hours to get here.”

Long Distance Swimmer

Indeed some skinny-dippers drove across state lines to strip down for the record. Military wife Kris J. got orders from her husband, deployed in Iraq, to attend the dip.

“Our camp in Kansas has a website, and he keeps track of it,” Kris says. “I was visiting family in Pennsylvania, and when he found out that I was going to be missing the [skinny-dip] there, he called me and said please try to find an AANR organization nearby.”

Kris logged on to the website, found Pine Tree Associates and was helping set a record when her husband called back.

“For us it’s nice to have something outside of work, because when you’re military, you’re all-day military,” explains Kris.

Sitting at Pine Tree’s picnic pavilion, Kris notes how similar the Crownsville club is to her Kansas club. The Association for Nude Recreation makes sure that their clubs follow stringent criteria, but Kris believes that the people make the clubs welcoming.

“Nudists are very social,” she says. “If you’re not social, you almost don’t belong.”

“It’s beautiful here,” adds Jim. “But it’s the people who sell this place.”

Going with the Flow

At three o’clock on the dot, 267 men, women and children took the plunge, making history while having fun in the sun. Posing for a record photograph, some of the pink-banded people turned their backs while others threw their arms over their heads, cheering and waving.

“It’s not for everyone,” said Kris, as she prepared to drive back to her family in Pennsylvania.

As of deadline, the tally of believers who joined to set the first skinny-dipping world record on July 11 was 11,400 and climbing.

Pine Tree Club, 1801 Hawkins Rd., Crownsville: 410-841-6033; www.pinetreeclub.org.