Tuesday, 11 p.m. at the local beach.
A mini van pulls into the parking lot. Loud music and muffled laughter can be heard. The side door opens, the interior light goes on, and there’s a collective shriek of alarm. The door slams shut, lights go off, and laughter resumes. A few minutes later, six white bodies emerge from the van, clad only in towels.
We head for the shore, avoiding streetlights and a distantly glowing campfire. The lake, which looks so inviting and refreshing during the day, appears ominous. The water is black in the darkness, the waves are rougher, and their crests a foamy white. We hesitate. Some grumble, shiver, debate, but no one suggests turning back. When the moment comes, we drop our towels and dash, running through the frigid ankle-deep water, laughing and gasping as we force ourselves toward instantaneous modesty at the cost of great discomfort. For a few seconds, we stand at our waists, dreading submersion, until one smart member of the group does an impromptu countdown and we all dunk.
Then it’s a mad rush back to the shore, groping for our towels, making sure we have the right one, and always the uncontrollable laughter. Now we’re giddy from our success – even more so as we detect a group of teenage boys approaching from the campfire. We beeline for the van and pile in with our sand-covered feet, goose-bumpy skin, and skimpy towels. No one bothers getting dressed again. I get dropped off at home and guiltily sneak in the back gate, hoping that my prim-and-proper neighbour doesn’t catch a glimpse.
If you haven’t skinny-dipped before, I highly urge you to try it. There’s no replacement for the feeling of fresh, cool water on your bare skin. No bathing suit can replicate that sensation – not to mention the adrenaline rush that comes with doing something so daring and positively provocative. I’ve been an avid skinny-dipper since before I can remember. Living on a lake, and having a whole slew of adventurous female cousins and aunts, certainly helped the situation. Skinny dipping simply became a summer ritual. It never acquired the sexual undertones that many associate it with. I consider it a unique and wonderful female bonding experience.
The best way to skinny dip, in my opinion, is with a group of women – that is, if you are a woman! There’s protection in numbers; it seems less weird if you get caught with fellow partners in crime – not as some lone lady who likes to swim naked in the dark. Creepy! This is also key because skinny-dipping brings on bad fits of the giggles. Perhaps it had something to do with the multiple glasses of wine I had on Tuesday, but it never fails to feel as if the water is ticklish. In a group, there’s an endless number of things to laugh at.
Take, for example, the friend whose birthday we were celebrating. She emerged from her apartment wearing nothing but a towel, which I found quite funny. Her reaction was simply to add a second towel over her shoulders, “so that now no one will know that anything is up.” The combination of the white bath towel and the colourful beach towel draped over top was so conspicuous, so glaring, and so out of keeping with her usually well-manicured appearance that I couldn’t control my laughter. Group dynamics provide much fodder for humour.
Skinny-dipping does not have to occur only at night. My mother and I usually dip into the lake in the early morning, when the mist is still rising off the surface. Of course, we do our customary visual sweep of our surroundings to make sure there are no unwanted guests. We watch for our elderly male neighbour, who also likes to skinny dip (as my mother learned the embarrassing way), and for the other neighbour who rows his silent skiff from end to end of the lake for morning exercise. If neither is in sight, we jump and, inevitably, start laughing. The problem with that is obvious; there’s nothing like laughter to draw attention to one’s actions.
I once got caught by the strange old guy who used to live at the end of the lake. His canoe glided out of the dusk shortly after I’d entered the water. We carried out an excruciatingly long conversation till he finally paddled on, at which point I still had to wait till he was far away before heaving my now-exhausted body up the ladder to the refuge of my towel.
These challenges, however, are precisely what give skinny dipping its appeal. And that’s why we were at the beach on Tuesday night, as we are every summer, embracing our inner exhibitionist and making the mad dash across many metres of shallow water to finally prove we can still do it.