Life without textiles
Nudestock 2003 revels in the naked truth
A local festival that draws 1,500 attendees is hardly a newsworthy item in itself these days. That the headliners were Rolling Stones and Creedence Clearwater Revival cover bands would all but demote the story to the nearest shredder or the round file for the janitors to empty out at night. Now, how’s this for a hook: 1,500 butt-naked attendees at the largest nude music festival in North America? Buddy, welcome to Nudestock.
For a few of you out there, the idea of Keith Richards (or even an ersatz Keef) struttin’ more than his Strat around might tickle the old gag reflex, but Nudestock is more than just a mass of well-tanned epidermis undulating to “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” It’s also a celebration of the skin and the sun and the need for nothing to come between the two.
The sixth annual Nudestock festival recently took place—as it has from the start—in Wilton, 25 miles southeast of Sacramento, at the Laguna del Sol naturist resort, or, as the patrons call it, “Paradise.” Set on 250 acres, the resort is tucked away in the middle of nowhere at the end of a long road. Laguna del Sol is a “clothing-optional resort,” no longer called the antiquated “nudist colony,” that conjures up images of Super 8 stag movies and gentlemen’s magazines. With the modernization and rising popularity of such retreats, the setting is geared toward vacationing families and couples. It offers cabins and campsites around a 25-acre manmade lake, a full restaurant (yes, you can eat birthday cake in your birthday suit), a big clubhouse, a gym and any other amenities you’d find at most higher-end resorts. A handful of people live on the premises year-round, but most members come during the summer weekends to soak up some sun, relax and enjoy their little piece of paradise.
Laguna del Sol is owned by Wayne and Suzanne Shell. They split their time between here and Southern California, where Suzanne does various projects and marketing for the resort during the winter months.
Suzanne comes from a family of naturists. “In fact, my parents are here this weekend and my two sisters,” she said. “I grew up going to a place like this in Southern California called Glen Eden, which is where I met my husband,” she said.
The couple took over Laguna del Sol 17 years ago. “We heard the owners were ready to retire and didn’t have anyone to pass it on to, and my husband said, ‘I think we should buy it.’ At the time, even though we were living in the L.A. area, we could just see that the land was just so beautiful; it was worth it just for the real-estate value. It was a growing business. It had about 450 members.”
Using money from Wayne’s business, the couple started to update the grounds, culminating in a million-dollar restaurant that opened earlier this year. Touring the resort with Suzanne in an under-juiced electric cart, which somehow elicited laughs from the equally-as-funny naked bike riders on little seats, she pointed out the changes she and her husband have implemented throughout the years. And all the while, she greeted the locals.
Suzanne’s cart finally gave up the ghost near the meadow where the stage and vendors were all set up for a throng of people of every size, shape and color (though they were mostly a shade somewhere in between those of a caramel apple and a well-basted Thanksgiving Butterball). There were kids and teens running around painted up like a Haight-Ashbury yard-sale sign, but most of the members and visitors, probably close to 75 percent, were 50 and older, with many retirees in their RVs hopping around the country from one resort to the next. When asked why there seemed to be a large contingency of seniors, one guest replied, “Older people don’t care about how they look, really. They’ve lived their lives, and no one can tell them what they can and cannot do. They’ve spent a lifetime in their bodies and are comfortable in them.”
At this point, Suzanne introduced us to Akin, a journalist on assignment from the London Observer, and his photographer. Unlike me and my intrepid photographer, who didn’t even want to deal with knowing the contours of each other’s butts, Akin and his shutterbug were both jaybird-naked and fully in tune with their surroundings. Our bar had just been raised, we realized.
“So, Akin, was it hard to get into the spirit of things?”
“No, not really.”
A band with the imaginative moniker the Unauthorized Rolling Stones was setting up on stage. The Mick Jagger impersonator was wearing a floor-length fake-fur trench coat as the Fahrenheit mark crept up to triple digits. Just watching him could induce heat stroke, and it made for quite a contrast: rock ‘n’ roll excess against the naturists’ ultra-minimalism. By the end of their set, their drummer had exited his clothing, and they were joined by a man who resembled a really happy and naked Nikolai Lenin playing congas.
Off to the side, Vince Larsen watched. A big, wide grin; top hat; and granny glasses were his only decor. Larsen was the booker, promoter and coordinator for Nudestock, and this one would be his last. He was starting his own promotion company to bring acts to both nude resorts and the “textile world,” as he called it. He’d also been offered a job helping set up entertainment with a clothes-free cruise line that travels through the Caribbean.
I asked if it was hard to get bands to play at Nudestock.
“Sometimes, they hesitate, and they’ll go, ‘No, I think that’ll be OK.’ Other times, they’ll be, ‘Let’s do it!'”
Had anyone turned down the opportunity?
“So far, no. In fact, some bands drop their prices just to get in. It’s not just another gig at a nightclub. [It’s] 1,500 naked people dancing in a meadow in the broad daylight. They tend to turn a few heads telling stories like that.”
Larsen and his wife have been naturists for the past 20 years and have been members of Laguna del Sol for more than 10 years. They reside in Elk Grove but have a trailer on the grounds at Laguna del Sol for weekend getaways. Asked how naturism has changed in the last 20 years, Larsen said, “The biggest change, I would have to say, [is] that the mainstream media and the public [are] finding out about it, and they’re not being so critical. They’re almost embracing it.”
“Just because you’re in a minority doesn’t mean you’re wrong; it just means you have a different opinion. Hopefully, people will remember that’s what America was founded on was people’s different opinions and choices.”
Of course, those people were called “puritans.” “It’s the textile world that keeps it more secret and is more immature about it than the nudist world,” Larsen said. “It’s kind of role reversal; we’re not the ones that are embarrassed. They’re the ones.”
Frugging and shimmying in the front of the dancing crowd like a banshee, Cindy Koski was really having a great time. She and her husband, Brian, both in their late 30s, describe themselves as being in the “younger” end of the group. She works as a product manager and estimator for a construction firm, and he’s in the heating and air-conditioning trade. Both found Laguna del Sol an oasis from the hectic pace of everyday life.
“For us, we are both really high-stress people. We found going to beaches really relaxing. Take that bathing suit off—there’s a big difference!” Cindy said, laughing. “This is our therapy.
“It didn’t start off as a health issue, but it has become a health issue. It’s really one of the best ways for my husband and I to de-stress. You come through this gate, and hey, our cell phones don’t really work here! You have to get on the roof to make a call! There’s no phones, no headaches. If we want the paper, we have to make an effort to go and get it.”
Still, there must be an underbelly to this paradise. “I think there’s a few cons for people that live here year-round,” Cindy admitted. “For example, this weekend. This is an invasion of the area. The poor people that live here all year, their space is tremendously invaded. But it’s not forever. It’s only 48 hours that they have to put up with it.”
The Koskis have been married for nine years and enjoy the family atmosphere at Laguna. They’ve made friends from all around the world through the naturist circles, and they make the drive from their home in Half Moon Bay as often as possible. And they promote naturism as not only a way to alleviate stress but also a way to become comfortable with who you are physically.
“I’ll tell you, one of the most humbling experiences for people who think they’re overweight or have stretch marks is when you walk around and you see people who’ve had bypass surgery or mastectomies. When you see people who have truly suffered, and their bodies are scarred from suffering, people have no room to complain about five pounds or 50 pounds too much.
“I think that what’s promoted here the most is: Seize the day … carpe diem. Be happy and appreciate everything."