A few years ago Alison Powell suggested to her friends that they go skinnydipping. They replied that they might do it if it was the middle of summer and if it was for a good cause. This inspired her to organise the first Midsummer Skinnydip.
On June 19th 2011 a group of 413 participants stripped off on Rhosilli beach, South Wales, setting a world record for the largest group skinnydip. They also raised over £20,000 for Marie Curie cancer care. I was one of those people and proudly display the framed certificate at home to show it.
The event was a wonderful success. People came from all over, including a couple who were on holiday from Australia. People were asked in advance, why they wanted to take part. Their replies were printed out and put on cards lining the path to the beach, showing us all the varying motivations of the participants. Most of the participants were not nudists. Many were committed to doing something for cancer care. Others just wanted to have the experience of doing something like this, once in their life. I remember hearing afterwards of a couple who had gone along to this event as their first date. They are now happily married. There was widespread international press coverage, generally reporting the event in a very positive way. Alison won an award for the most original fundraising charity event of the year. Many lasting friendships were made on that beach. I was surprised to meet up with some old friends from University, who also happened to be taking part.
After the Midsummer Skinnydip there were a lot of people keen to do it again. A lot of friends of the participants were sad to have missed out and wanted to get involved the following year, if it went ahead.
The following year Alison handed over the organisation to another volunteer. This time there was not as much publicity. The woman who took over seems to have underestimated just how much time and effort needed to be put into organisation and publicity. She tried her best, but was not as affective as Alison had been. She also faced competition. Other world record skinnydip attempts were taking place in Australia and New Zealand. There was also a North-East skinnydip in Druridge bay, Northumberland. That one was at Dawn, later in the year and was extremely cold, although quite beautiful.
The temperature was about 5 degrees, the North Sea felt even colder and the sand was covered with ice crystals. I think this photo which a local photographer took of me really says it all.
The midsummer skinnydip moved that year, from Rhosilli to Oxwich bay. Still a beautiful beach, but no longer at the most beautiful beach in the country. As a result of less publicity and alternate events, there were only about 200 participants at Oxwich for the 2012 skinnydip.
The press were still present, taking photos of the crowds and of the participants. They seemed to focus on the more attractive girls, such as my friends Mary-Eve and Taz.
My friends Emma and Isabel were back again and also had a press photographer ask them to pose for photographs. The look on Emma’s face was because afterwards he had just told them that the photos would probably be in the Sun.
Despite the presence of the press photographers, the photos were mostly not used. No new record had been set and the national papers mainly ignored the event. There was an article in the local Evening Post, but almost nothing else. The event was no longer such a novelty and unless there was a record, the press didn’t see it as being worth reporting.
Just before the end of December the record was broken. A skinnydip event in Gisborne, New Zealand had over 500 participants, mainly young adults.
In 2013 the organisation was handed over to Marie Curie. This time, with a national organisation advertising the event it seemed like things were moving in the right direction. They weren’t.
Marie Curie decided to move the event to June 2nd, as it had been designated as World Nudist Day. I can understand the decision, but it did mean that it was no longer a midsummer skinnydip. They also decided to stage four events on the same day, in different parts of Britain. One in Wales, at Oxwich bay, one at Studland Beach in Dorset, another in Essex and a fourth in Scotland. This would allow more people to get to their local dip, but it also meant that people would no longer travel across the country to the same spot. As a fundraising strategy, it was a good one. As a way of breaking the world record, they could hardly have done more to sabotage it.
The information sent out to participants asked for a £15 registration fee, but pointed out that this was all to go towards the cost of organising events. Participants were initially asked to raise a target of at least £80 each for sponsorship. this target was later dropped to £50. Suggestions for how they could raise fund were included, such as cake sales etc. It seemed that it was not enough just to get involved. The focus was very firmly on raising money. Several of the people who had been involved in previous years were put off by this. They had done this twice already and could hardly ask their friends for much sponsorship for doing something which had become fairly routine. The tone made it clear that simple coming along and being involved was not considered to be enough. Photography was heavily discouraged. There were only two official photographers this year and no other press photographers. They also said that we could not bring family and friends along to watch. In short, it was becoming very formal and no longer fun.
The publicity for the event wasn’t very good either. The publicity material advertising the event often grouped it with other Marie Curie events. The participants were also sent out information on other Marie Curie fundraising events and ideas. Rather than being a big, sensational event, it was yet one of many fundraising events that Marie Curie had organised throughout the year. Most of the publicity seemed to come from within the naturist community and from people who had been involved in the event during previous years. At Oxwich there were fewer than 100 participants.
Some of them were very dedicated to supporting Marie Curie. Because of how much the Marie Curie site had emphasised not allowing spectators a few of the participants voiced surprise that the beach was not completely closed to the public, even though there was hardly anyone else around. I did meet up with a group of people from South Wales who I knew from the previous two years and we stuck together afterwards for our own little naturist beach BBQ on another nearby beach.
The regular participants were generally a bit disappointed with how the event had been run. The trouble with giving an organisation control over an event like this is that they only promote things that benefit them. Across the country as a whole over 400 people took part, which was around the same as the first year. Those participants, with the greater emphasis on fundraising, raised significantly more money than in previous years. From the perspective of Marie Curie the event was a big success.
As far as a challenge to the world skinnydip record is concerned, it was a dismal flop. The numbers at each location were far too low. The weather was good, but there was no frivolity and festive atmosphere. Most of the participants were out of the water within a few minutes. In short, it was no fun any more.
Look at the footage taken in New Zealand:
The participants were mainly youngsters. They were clearly having fun. they knew that there would be cameras and didn’t mind. They enjoyed posing for silly commemorative shots. There were lots of spectators, coming along to support them. The whole event had a very festive atmosphere. It was fun.
I know a few people have pointed out that there were obviously a few people who still had swimming costumes on, but that is a separate issue.
If we are going to be able to host a world record skinnydip here in the UK we need to make it fun. Take the focus away from fundraising and put it back on participation. By all means charge a registration fee to cover running costs and give people a chance to raise money if they want, but also let them just turn up and get involved.
I would recommend that Young BN try to arrange something in conjunction with Beach Break. Every year thousands of students descend on Newquay for a summer festival. To enjoy live music and to go wild. If you offered them a chance to strip off and get a new world record, I’m certain that thousands of them would be up for it. If the midsummer skinnydip became part of a whole weekend of fun, frivolity and festivity it would attract a lot more participants. It would also allow a lot of young people to get a fun, lighthearted introduction to the appeal of nudism.
Note: Since I initially wrote this it appears that a new record, of 719 people, has been set in the Southern Spanish town of Vera on July 21st 2013. This was done with the support of the town council and the Spanish Nudism Federation to promote Vera as an international venue for nudist holidays. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/travel/news/spanish-town-of-vera-claims-guinness-world-record-holder-for-collective-nude-bathing/story-e6frg8ro-1226682875722