Let it Hang out on Wreck Beach

For all its natural wealth, Vancouver still carries a reputation as a city allergic to fun. Transplants will be quick to tell you how polite yet unwelcoming the city can be, how rules and regulations suffocate events, and how the orchard of civic spirit is chopped down by City Hall in case of that one bad apple. And then you get Wreck Beach. It gravitates on the city’s most westerly point like antimatter, like anti-Vancouver. To get there, you must journey to UBC (the University of British Columbia), find parking and walk down the 473 stairs of Trail Six as exhausted people pass you on the way up. At the bottom, you’ll notice two things: a beautiful beach dotted with backrest logs, and a motley collection of clothed and naked people.

Wreck Beach is clothing optional, but it is more than that. It’s a community, dedicated to keeping the beach clean, the conduct becoming and the creeps out. While it’s impossible to buy food on the sand of any other beach in the city, here you can pick up a cold beer, a pizza, a bison burger, a veggie wrap and even a cocktail from enterprising and spritely vendors in the buff. Kids run amok, safely observed by their parents and friends. Groups gather around logs, playing guitar and Frisbee, reading the paper or debating politics. Smell the tang of cannabis in the air, hear the beat of a drum, and be surprised that the majority of bodies belong to the weathered and leathered, not the rebelliously young. It can get really busy on sunny weekends, and increasingly tourists are finding their way here too. This is fine when they respect the nature of the place, and not so fine when they expose their cameras instead of their privates.

Yes, City Hall, some people cannot hold their liquor and shouldn’t be allowed to toke on the beach. But the vast majority of Wreckers are quite capable of looking after themselves, and deal responsibly with someone who steps out of line. When the police raid, as they seem to do more frequently, word rolls up along the beach to help everyone avoid a violation fine. They’re just doing their jobs, but I’ve seen officers handle a wayward beer with far too much aggression, rightly earning a “shame on you” from nearby students and grandmas. Wreck Beach may not be everyone’s cup of chai, and not everyone deserves all the freedom that it offers. Yet here is proof that beautiful Vancouver can let its hair down and bask in the sun without burning down the house. Have fun responsibly, and don’t forget to apply sunscreen. Yes, there too.

Canadian law states it is unlawful to be nude in public, or dressed in a way that offends public decency. That includes you, Justin Bieber. Fortunately, there are places we can run around in the buff, such as municipally approved clothing optional beaches, and isolated places where nobody cares to call the authorities. Toronto’s Hanlan’s Point joins Wreck Beach as official nude beachs, while nudists gather unofficially at Crystal Crescent Beach (Halifax), Oka Park (Quebec) and naturist resorts around the country.

For more info about Wreck Beach, visit the official site of the Wreck Beach Preservation Society.

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