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Naked Before the World

A Brief History of Nudity at the Beach


Thursday, May 9, 2013

NUDE NEWS: Who among us hasn’t had one of those embarrassing dreams where you’re out in public and find yourself starkers? I mean naked as a jaybird.

And because you normally can’t run in a dream, you’re stuck, letting it all hang out. Luckily, often no one else seems to be paying the least attention. About this time, you’re liable to awaken in a cold sweat. Psychologists claim that often the dreams are a sign of insecurity. Something’s bothering you.

Barney Brantingham

On the other hand, some people look forward to stripping down among friends and strangers — at the beach, that is, basking in the warm sun in their birthday suits.

But baring the bod at the beach isn’t what it used to be during the bare-it-all 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s. Mass nudity led to busts, which ultimately led to fewer souls willing to risk a citation. Many of the once clothing-optional beaches here are now citation-risk zones.

Frank Frost, former county supervisor and retired UCSB history professor, reminds me that he was cited twice. “The first time was in 1978, when there was a big nude protest on the beach against sheriff harassment.

“I was photographed surreptitiously from the backside by an undercover deputy and was mailed a ticket for an infraction.” Frost said he managed to persuade a deputy DA “that I was being picked on as a former supervisor and well-known nude-beach activist. He dropped the charge.

“The second time was in September 2000. I just paid the ticket but put on a show at the next supervisors’ meeting, which I like to think embarrassed the sheriff enough to quit wasting money on More Mesa.”

Frost told the supervisors, “I was swimming and sunbathing on the beach below More Mesa. There were all of eight people on that mile-long beach that day — and two of them were sheriff’s deputies in full uniform. Although no one on that beach is visible from any residence, thoroughfare, vehicle, or public walkway of any kind, these deputies proceeded to cite me for what they called ‘public’ nudity.

BARE ALL OR BUST: Nudity still thrives at More Mesa beach.

“I admit that I was clothed exactly as I was on the day I was born. I have also paid the fine. Our sheriff had sent out two vehicles, a regular black-and-white unit and an SUV, and two deputies to counterattack what he believes to be the threat of public nudity on what is the least public beach in the Santa Barbara area, mostly because of its inaccessibility. The two deputies were fine young men, courteous but firm, well-spoken, obviously well-trained.

“I asked them at first why they were not out looking for the man who robbed my house two years ago and stole all my wife’s jewelry. They admitted that this was not their job, that real crimes like that were entrusted to sheriff’s detectives and that no doubt an arrest was imminent. (The jewelry is still missing.)

“My question to the board today is this: Do you believe that sending two fine young law enforcement officers and two expensive vehicles to a remote beach to arrest a 70-year-old retired history professor for nudity is the most effective use of the historically bloated County Sheriff’s Department’s budget?”

The sheriff’s office tells me that it does not perform anti-nudity sweeps, acts only upon complaint, and hasn’t issued a citation in some time.

Nudity still thrives at More Mesa beach, I’m told, so Sue and I decided to check it out last Sunday. We prepared to slather up with industrial-strength sun block, ready to risk sunburn and skin cancer in the interest of the public’s right to know. Lo and behold, the day was chilly, windy, and overcast. So we stayed home, drank coffee, lit a fire, and watched Lincoln on the tube. He set the slaves free. Who’s going to set the beaches free?

ZING WENT THE STRINGS: Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society is, well, different. Instead of sitting, as most orchestras do, the musicians mostly stood at Campbell Hall, led by a red-headed ball of fiddling fire named Aisslinn Nosky. (Sponsored by UCSB Arts & Lectures.)

NEXT TO NORMAL: You might call it a modern opera, as director Samantha Eve does. A family deals with mental illness, including electroshock therapy. I found it profoundly moving. Deborah Bertling, as the ill mother, sings beautifully. It shows at Center Stage Theater through Sunday, May 12.

THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE: I had a delightful evening at this San Marcos High student musical — top entertainment directed by David Holmes. It’s back onstage tonight (May 9) and Friday and Saturday nights at 7 p.m.

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