There's no better relief on a hot August afternoon than a cool dip in the lake, swimsuit not required. The small Halifax Skinny Dippers society thinks so, welcoming all to join in their bare-naked adventures.
"We are so in denial that we are animals with body parts," says Adrian, a burly engineer in his 30s and the group's ringleader. "We are so neurotic about it that even if you are going swimming, you have to buy special clothes, that don't keep you dry or warm."
Like most people, my experience with skinny dipping was limited to giggly, alcohol-induced escapades in the dark of night. But I'm one for adventure and swimming, so I joined the group on a recent outing to Susies Lake. As long as I agreed to respect their rules (mutual acceptance, confidentiality and non-sexual behaviour), I was invited along, trepidations and all.
Adrian does most of the talking. The others on the hike are a younger male electrician, an older male government employee and a woman studying in Halifax. The meet-ups go like this one: the group assembles, they work up a sweat with a hike to a secluded swimming area and then everyone strips down.
Their membership, so far, all have naturist backgrounds (those who enjoy ditching clothes for non-sexual escapades), though that's not a requirement. There are a couple of naturist organizations in Nova Scotia, such as the Bluenose Naturist Society. The skinny dippers all tell me they avoid those formal groups, as many emphasize heterosexual coupling and families. These dippers, are looking for a more sublime experience.
"Some might not talk about it, but there's quite a mystical element to it," says Adrian. "Especially when you're by yourself. Just you and Mother Earth...Quite beautiful."
When we reach the intended spot, a beautiful inlet on the lake, someone is already there, floating on an inner tube. I wonder if the swim will be off, but Adrian asks if the man would mind us swimming naked. When he shakes his head "no," everyone starts stripping down. After a moment's hesitation, I join in.
Within a few minutes, it doesn't feel weird to be naked—swimming's the same with or without a bathing suit. The group chats about summer, family and previous trips. It's clear they've bonded over the swimming. I ask the lone woman if she feels awkward, but she says no.
Later, I'm wrapped in a towel, snapping a few photos when a larger group comes out of the brush. They've got beer, wine and swimsuits. For me, the protected moment is lost. The others keep swimming, unbothered. Adrian mentions that the rough rule is if you're there first, others can find another place to swim if they're bothered. At one point someone calls out from the trail, "It's OK. I've seen a dick before."
After an hour, we hike back to the parking lot. On the trail a couple of hikers pass us.
"Have you been in the water?" one asks.
"Yes!" says Adrian. "Lovely day for skinny dipping!" —Evey Hornbeck