The Nudist and the Neurotic

Extreme relaxation, it turns out, isn’t for everyone


MY FIRST EVENING AT THE NUDE BEACH, I was invited to a memorial service for a guy named Dave. I’d never met Dave, but several people assured me that, had I had the chance, he would certainly have befriended me. Dave was just that kind of guy. I quickly learned that he was known for three things: his love of Pink Floyd, his staunch commitment to nudism and for making the best pot brownies in town. A one-time heavy drinker who’d messed up and done a spell behind bars, Dave had cleaned up his act, got sober and found his paradise here at the beach. He and his wife were retired. They spent their winters in Mexico and could usually be found walking down the sand, arm in arm, naked as the day they were born. The band played a rendition of “Wish You Were Here.” Someone sang “Dust in the Wind.” A tribute in the corner contained a framed picture of Dave, surrounded by photos of him and his friends from the beach. On top of the urn containing Dave’s ashes, wrapped in foil, was his last pot brownie. 

 The next few days dissolved in a haze of sun and saltwater. I finished one book and began another. My tan deepened. I began to know the local characters by name. I was adjusting to the pace of life. I swam nude every day, and it was still nice, but it was never as good as that first time. One afternoon I had my hair cut by an aging, relentlessly energetic crossdresser named Chip who lived in a second-story palapa with a trapeze hanging from the ceiling. When I arrived, he was baking muffins. A monosyllabic young man with the torso of an underwear model and a lizard tattooed on his shoulder lounged on a sofa, smoking a joint. When he finished with my hair, Chip insisted I try the trapeze, shouting after me as I left, “Come over anytime! We have so much fun here!” I believed him, but I also had a nagging feeling that perhaps I wasn’t capable of enjoying life here as much as he did. That his was a level of relaxation for which I was not suited.
I began to realize there were two kinds of people here. There were the young ones, mostly stoned hippies living in tents along the beach, the more industrious of whom hustled pesos from yoga classes and handmade jewellery. And then there were Dave’s peers, the lifers like Chip, the ones who’d already had careers and families and owned homes in colder places where clothing was not optional. Like me they were all here in pursuit of relaxation, seeking to escape the anxieties of life back home. And for the most part it seemed to be working. But it wasn’t working for me. Given time, perhaps I could have earned a place in their ranks—taken up hemp weaving or juggling, or spent my evenings playing cribbage and drinking sundowners—but I couldn’t see myself being content doing either. It wasn’t just the lack of first-world toilet facilities I was missing, it was my friends back home, dinner parties and wine, reliable high-speed Internet, summer cottage weekends, good bread. I had imagined myself finding peace in a simple life of simple pleasures—sun on my shoulders, a cool ocean to swim in, a good book, a cheap taco— but these on their own were not a solution to my anxiety. I thought of Dave’s memorial, the pot brownie and the photos and his friends playing his favourite song. He had been happy here and I understood why. He had everything he needed. My beach was out there, and I suspected I knew where to find it. It was a lot closer to home than I’d ever thought. “I’m generally prepared, I’m observant, I don’t often lose my keys. Sometimes I wonder, though, if these fringe benefits balance out a racing mind prone to pessimism and full of uninvited bad premonitions.” 

I’m what you’d call an anxious person, my mind a constant stream of worries, what-ifs and potential dangers to be avoided. On occasion this helps me: I’m generally prepared, I’m observant, I don’t often lose my keys. Sometimes I wonder, though, if these fringe benefits balance out a racing mind prone to pessimism and full of uninvited bad premonitions. As I embarked upon this grand revision of my life, I had two questions I wanted answered. Was there any circumstance under which I could relax my mind and free myself from worry in the long term? And second, what would I be giving up in return?
This, in short, is why I attended Dave’s memorial. A few weeks into my trip, and completely by accident, I arrived at probably the most relaxed place in Mexico (making it, in all likelihood, among the most relaxed in the world). It’s a little beach town known for its robust populations of dreadlocked hippies, gay men and gringo snowbirds with incredibly deep tans. It also happens to contain one of the few nude beaches in Mexico. There’s a lot of yoga here, not a lot of shoes and not much to do other than hang out on the sand, drink cheap beer and be just as weird as you feel like. Walk down the beach at any time of day and you’ll find people in various degrees of undress reposed on the shore, juggling, practising aikido, doing sun salutations, fishing and bodysurfing in the Pacific. There’s a shop selling locally made homeopathic lotions and mobiles with birds on them. Whales breach along the horizon, iguanas skitter through the jungle and baby sea turtles flop their way towards the waves. It’s the sort of place people arrive for two-week vacations and never get around to leaving. It is to relaxation what Rotterdam is to shipbuilding, what Napa is to wine: it’s not just the chief industry, it’s a way of life.
I had been to the clothing-optional beach in Toronto on several occasions, but never felt comfortable being nude myself. I find the idea of being naked in public in broad daylight deeply unsettling. I think I was four years old the last time I swam nude in the ocean. Not long after that, I became both self-conscious and afraid of sea creatures, and that was pretty much that. But it felt different here. Or maybe I felt different. Or maybe it was the couple frolicking in the surf in front of me wearing nothing but luchador masks. They looked like they were having so much fun. I slid off my trunks and walked towards the water, feeling the sun and wind on my body. The water was cool but not cold. A wave rolled in, white foam forming at its crest as it began to break in front of me. I shut my eyes and dove beneath it, kicking my legs, gliding through the water. I surfaced on the other side, tasting briny sea, ocean sparkling to the horizon, seawater dripping from my hair. I rolled onto my back and floated, the sun warming my eyelids. It was nicer than I could ever have imagined. I felt completely free.