January 5, 2012

Commentary:  The good old days of skinny
dipping on the seashore are over


Now you might think this is a strange subject for me to approach.  But not really.  Skinny dipping has a long history on the Outer Banks.  I don’t really understand what the allure is to walk the beach or swim naked, but to many it has been a long-time tradition.

I recall years ago there was uproar in the news media about a congressman who was seen walking the beach naked in Florida.  In one of my stories that I wrote years ago, entitled “The Secrets of Sunrise,” I gave a first-hand account of a gentleman walking the beach naked.  Some who visit the beach are little more discreet.  They wait for the cover of night before they drop their clothes and plunge into the ocean for a midnight swim. 

I don’t feel skinny dipping has a sexual connotation.  The kind of skinny dipping I am referring to is same sex.  I was surprised to learn from talking to my wife that the desire to skinny dip was not just a male thing.  Groups of girls have been known to go skinny dipping as well.  Of course, she claims she never engaged in such an illicit activity.  After all, she grew up in West Virginia. I have a feeling that even in West Virginia and states not near the ocean, there has been a lot of skinny dipping.

I define skinny dipping as a mischievous act that conjures up the feelings of being free.  When you go to the beach, you just naturally feel free and adventurous.  There is something about the roar of the ocean and the waves splashing on the beach that makes you want to throw all your worries and cares to the wind.  This is the feeling that causes some to toss their clothes aside and jump in the water.

Now I will ask you a personal question.  You don’t dare openly answer this for it might incriminate or embarrass you. You surely would not want your kids or grandkids to know.  That might destroy your saintly image.  Have you ever skinny dipped?

 I think the answer to that might have to do with the environment in which you grew up.  If you lived on a farm that had a pond or a creek or river nearby, the answer might well be “yes.”  TV programs like “Little House on the Prairie” and “The Waltons” are a good example of a way of life that lent itself to skinny dipping. 

Have you ever dropped your clothes and gone skinny dipping and had someone take your clothes?  This seems to a favorite theme in some of the Western movies.  It can be an embarrassing moment, even if done just in jest by your friends.

I am going to share a personal secret with you that I hope will not make you think any less of me.  I have skinny dipped at Hatteras in the sound and the ocean.  What’s more, I enjoyed it and would do it again. My skinny dipping days were while growing up on Hatteras Island.  In those days, we did not have tourists on the island.  You could go to the sound or beach and seldom see anyone there. 

Many times, we boys skinny-dipped in the sound.  Captain Burrus’ boat was one of our favorite places to swim to in the sound.  He kept the boat anchored out in the sound. I can remember well the fun we had jumping off his boat into the water. 

Occasionally, not often, someone would hide our clothes as a joke.  I do recall one time I had to sneak home naked because of it.  Of course, back then there were times you could even walk the sand roads and not see a person.  Far as that goes, it is doubtful if anyone saw you they would be alarmed or run and tell.  There was no calling the police for we did not have police on the island.  We policed ourselves. They would probably just get a good laugh out of the fact someone played a joke on you and hid your clothes when you went skinny dipping.

Sadly, our skinny dipping days are over on the Outer Banks. Nudity in any form on the beach, no matter how innocent it may be, can lead to serious trouble for the offender.  No longer are we free to enjoy the simplest pleasures like walking the beach, shelling, fishing, sunbathing, and driving without being constantly watched. 

In the last three years, we have witnessed the strong-arm tactics of the National Park Service in administering their program to protect a handful of birds.

In the name of protecting endangered and threatened species, the Cape Hatteras National Seashore has mauled and killed much of the wildlife that once roamed our forests with their predator program.  This program uses tax dollars to pay the salary of an animal exterminator.  The Park Service has cajoled, criticized, and divided people into two major camps. One group favors closing the beaches to all vehicles and limiting foot traffic. The other, which is in the majority, favors keeping free and open beach access as was promised in writing at the beginning by the Cape Hatteras National Recreational Area. 

Now, adding insult to injury, a paid permit system to drive the beach is being instituted that places limits on how many vehicles can be on the beach at a time and how they should be parked. No longer will groups be allowed to cluster on the beach or park behind one another. 

It will be interesting to see how this new rule plays out on the famous fishing area know as Cape Point.  During special holidays and the fall fishing season, off-road vehicles are stacked deep.   

Tourists, as well as locals, will have to make a personal appearance to undergo a training session on how to drive the beach and what is required equipment.   After completion of their training session, they will be asked to shell out money for a permit to drive the beach.  At this time the price has not been officially announced, but it will be somewhere between $90 to $150 annually. 

The paid permit will not guarantee access to the beach.  It depends on the number of allowed vehicles in an area.   Additional closures will occur at the whim of the seashore superintendent and will limit access to the beach even further.  In the last three years, walking and driving access points to the beach have fluctuated from day to day.  Can you see visitors spending their precious vacation time waiting in line at a checkpoint for a spot to open up so they can go to the beach?

This type program could only be designed for one purpose.  That is to discourage people from coming to the islands. There is no doubt that this new program will entail checkpoints being established for entrance onto the beach.  At the checkpoints drivers, as well as the contents of their vehicles, will be under scrutiny.   A constant patrolling the beach and monitoring the activities of all who are there will occur.  

For those who had the freedom in times past to collect shells, driftwood, and other items that wash up on the beach, I am sure will be watched and limits will be put on that activity.  There has even been mention in the NPS literature that a shuttle service could be implemented to places like Cape Point. Of course, this will be for a fee. 

So far I have not seen anything about providing portable toilets.  Could well be this is another way they can generate more money for their coffers by issuing tickets to those who “got to go.”  Not sure if the “I had to go” excuse will stand up in a federal court before a judge who is in favor of closing the beaches to all traffic.

With this as a background about the mentality of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore administration and the staff, I would definitely discourage anyone from ever thinking of skinny dipping again.

Those days are gone and it would behoove parents to instruct their children to be careful how they conduct themselves on the beach.  I base this on some of the things I have been told the park rangers have done over the last three years – such as hassling visitors for tossing a cracker to a seagull, a child for reaching hand under a rope to pick up a shell,  and a family for coming early in the morning to watch the sunrise by claiming they were sleeping in their car. 

As far as I know, there is no federal law on the books in regard to nudity in a national park. I would assume the charge would be based on state or local law.  I would advise everyone to check out the laws within your state and how they are being interpreted.  Every region and different cultures have different interpretations on the subject.  In some areas, some of the bathing suits seen on our beaches would be classified as violating the nudity laws.

Probably the next move by the National Park Service will be to issue a statement on what type of swimwear you will be allowed to have on the beach.  It would be interesting to see what they come up with.  Now there is a study for you!  The history of swimwear.

 Below is the law in regard to being nude in North Carolina. I would advise you not to give the stool pigeons or do-gooders who now roam our beaches an opportunity to report you.  Who knows? You might end up on Facebook.

North Carolina Code 14-190.9 defines nudity as “willful exposure of private parts in a public place and in the presence of others of opposite sex or aiding, abetting or procuring another to do so.” Breastfeeding of an infant is exempted.   The fine is six months in jail and a $500 fine.

My advice is to keep your bathing suit on, for the good-ole-days of skinny dipping on Hatteras and Ocracoke islands are gone forever.

(Editor’s note:  Dewey Parr spent most of his boyhood on Hatteras Island and now lives in Buxton, where he owns and operates The Old Gray House gift shop in Buxton with his wife, Mary.  He has written often about island life and traditions in days gone by and about how he thinks the National Park Service is eradicating these traditions.  He says he was “just having a little fun” when he wrote this article, so maybe it’s tongue-in-cheek – or maybe not.  To read more of Dewey’s articles, go to http://www.outerbanksshells.com/)

 Comments are always welcomed!

     Subject :

     Name :  (required)

     Email :  (required, will not be published)

     City :   (required)    State :   (required)

     Your Comments:

May be posted on the Letters to the Editor page at the discretion of the editor.