While spending a couple of days in San Francisco, a German friend and I decided to go Baker Beach to enjoy the September sun. Baker Beach is a beach to the northwest of the city, with a beautiful view of Golden Gate bridge and, in the evening, the setting sun. The northern part of the beach is also a nude beach.
Ingrid and I found a nice spot, and, having grown up with Freikörperkultur, we undressed and lay down in our birthday suits. That’s when the spectacle unfolded. As soon as our buttocks touched the blanket, an Asian man in full tourist apparel and with a camera around his neck approached us. “Can I take a picture?” he asked, his two friends snickering a safe distance away. We laughed, perplexed. “Sure, if you strip down and pose with us”. He declined, and left.
Thirty seconds later an incredibly tanned and bearded guy in his 60s got up from his sun lounger and made his way over to us. Eating a giant subway sandwich and sporting a piercing in the nether regions, he warned us of “that black dude over there. He always pulls out his junk in front of the ladies. I know him, I’ve been here for years. Let me know if he bothers you”. “That black dude” had already started setting up camp and taking off his clothes about 2m to our right, on a fairly empty beach. When we ignored his attempts at conversation, he directed his attention to a girl on his other side, who was trying to read a book.
Just as we had settled into our sunbathing sessions, another photographer, fully dressed with a functional vest, made his way up the beach. “Is he taking photos of naked people?” Ingrid asked, incredulous. He seemed to be pointing his camera at every bit of bare skin in sight while trying to make it look like he was taking pictures of the not-so-impressive landscape. We chuckled at the comic potential of the scene, until he pointed his telephoto lens at us. “I can’t believe it! Let’s go talk to him.” We walked a few meters across the beach. “Hey, you! Did you just take pictures of us?” “No, I didn’t,” he replied, averting his eyes. “Ok, let me see the pictures,” Ingrid demanded, moving to look at the camera. Sure enough, there we were. Among rows of photos of other beach-goers. “Delete them, right now! How weird are you to take pics of people like that?” He mumbled something, and scuttled away.
Mission accomplished, we returned to our blanket and debated whether this was just a coincidence or whether we had accidentally sat down our butt’s in peepers’ paradise. “Creepy coincidence,” I argued. Until I saw another dude, in jeans, shirt, baseball cap and sunglasses, lie down in the sand between us and the water. He pulled a pair of binoculars from his bag, and, with intent curiosity, looked in the general direction of the Golden Gate bridge. Then turned and looked at us. For a long time. Again, we walked over and asked him to do his peeping elsewhere, to which he uttered a muffled apology.
This is when we gave up. We packed up our stuff and left. Nude beaches in the States don’t seem to have the same code of conduct as in Europe. In the old world, everyone gets naked so nobody has an advantage. You don’t stare. You keep your distance to your neighbors. In the US, that doesn’t seem to be the case. No wonder most Americans still regard nude beaches with scepticism and a discomfortable chuckle. Turns out, the Land of the Free is not so free after all, at least if you intend to free yourself of your bathing suit. Learning: if you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear a bikini. Flowers in your hair are optional.