Ever since I can remember, I have enjoyed the harmless taboo of skinny dipping. As a teen growing up in Central New York, I experienced my first thrills of this kind with the neighborhood girls. Our excursions were mostly confined to pools and were elaborate, middle-of-the-night, clandestine ops with all the tension and pent-up hysteria of an attempted jail break – with the exception that were were trying to break IN. However, had we been caught during one of these “pool hopping” forays, we believed the outcome would be the same disastrous one: arrests… lock down! Still, we believed the prize worth the risk.
Later, I graduated to moonlit, co-ed romps at local swimming holes and lakes. The tentative way some of us would tug at our clothing, pretending difficulty with a zipper or fumbling with shirt buttons, stealing curious glances at one another’s bodies and sizing them up (either for contrast against our own or for possible conquest) was all part-and-parcel of the intrigue. The inky blackness of the water against the velvety blackness of the night was a welcome refuge in years when I felt particularly self-conscious, but not enough so as to demure the adventure.
I have always both loved and feared the first chill of the first footstep into the water. Never a “plunger,” I prolonged – and still do – the sweet agony, like a trembling masochist at sadist’s preliminary four-course dinner party. As the water engulfed the tender flesh, goosebumps rose everywhere, heightening the pleasure. I would, finally, submerge and submit to the icy cold. It was shockingly delicious release of sweaty anticipation and the day’s heat. We frolicked like playful otters for as long as we dared and later, furtively and reluctantly, we tip-toed up the stairs to our respective bedrooms, cooler and calmer. Skinny dipping is a forty-year old hedonistic ritual I grant myself every summer, no matter my locale. So, when I transplanted myself to the Hamptons in the summer of 1998, knowing only a single soul who sinks like a stone, I didn’t immediately consider skinny dipping or the many different and wondrous bodies of water here, virgin territory for my exploratory delight.
At first, I re-adopted my nighttime hi-jinx: skinny dipping with my friend, Ken, in his clients’ pool –and with their blessings! As we floated blissfully in their pristine gunite pool, with the seductive backdrop of 3 Mile Harbor and a million stars to further set the tone, he moaned softly:
“We are so lucky!”
“Ken,” I retorted, sagely, “It’s not ‘luck”… We’re here because WE can appreciate this; THIS is meant to be ENJOYED!”
From that first proclamation of my Truth, I have sought to fully enjoy my skinny dipping escapades: my sunrise baptisms, my midday soaks, my sunset immersions and my late-night dips. Whenever possible, I tried to enlist a partner in crime to share my guilty pleasure.
Following Ken, Elizabeth, my friend and hostess and I took to daily sunrise hikes with her two dogs. We drove west from East Quogue and followed long sea-glass collecting walks with skinny dipping. We would laugh and tumble in the waves, body-surfing in the full sense of the word, while the dogs barked at us from shore. Emerging, dripping and sun-kissed in all the right places, the dogs would jump on us in their excitement, sometimes leaving scratch marks: our badges of honor!
When I moved to East Hampton Springs, I befriended Johanna, who lived in Wainscott. We worked at Naturopathica in six-hour shifts, preceded or followed by our work with private clients. It was our custom, after we finished work, to regroup at Wainscott’s main beach for skinny dipping. After showering off and dressing at her house, we could be found sipping salt-rimmed Patron Margaritas at Turtle Crossing in Amagansett or warming a barstool while imbibing our favorite red at Della Femina, now the East Hampton Grill. The alcohol served to prolong the body memory of the waves. We’d slip from our seats at the end of an evening, still feeling our sea legs!
Boyfriends parted us and, when I moved with Rob to a beautiful modern rental with floor-to-ceiling windows, right on Peconic Bay and just feet from water’s edge, I paused (relatively) briefly. Though the bay called to me with a siren’s song, he was prominent in the community and had growing children. I closed my ears to the song’s magick and TRIED to be “respectable.” I wore my swimsuit, like a good pseudo-stepmom and neighbor, for two years and ten months of our three-year relationship. As the posing became untenable, I reinstated my sunrise skinny dipping… to the neighbor’s chagrin or pleasure, I never knew nor cared…
From the border of Hampton Bays, I moved into Southampton village with Mary, one of my yoga buddies. The ocean was a very easy walk across Hampton Road and down Little Plains. Sunrise was the optimal skinny dipping time for me. I braved the ocean alone now, as I couldn’t seem to interest Mary in waking for that purpose before 8. I still harbored the hope that Rob and I would reunite. So, for a year, I held myself apart from full participation in the local social scene. I remember one evening very clearly; I met Mary and her trader friends from the City for dinner at Madam Tong’s, then located at 30 Elm St. It was an unseasonably chilly night with gusty winds. I was under-dressed and underweight (from the break-up), but looking fabulous in a Marilyn Monroe-style black-and-white striped halter dress and sipping a cocktail when I saw Rob dash in and scan the crowd, as though looking for someone. Everyone at table gasped – they knew the hold he still had on me. I held my breath and, as he caught my eye, I beckoned him to our table and invited him to join us. We bantered back and forth with the girls for the duration of the meal and, when we began to gather our possessions to leave, he asked me back to his place – my former home. I hesitated and it seemed to both of us as though I would decline. His face appeared crestfallen, but only for a heartbeat. As I looked to my friends for moral support and then, back at him, he appeared to have an epiphany, which he temptingly delivered with a huge grin:
“We can go skinny dipping!!”
It was a Jerry McGuire Moment… He’d had me at “hello.”
That was ten years ago and I’ve skinny-dipped on countless beaches here in the Hamptons. I’m currently living in an adorable cottage on Shinnecock Bay with my boyfriend of three-plus years, Mark. After a long hiatus (read: Dark Night of the Soul), I’m back to my longtime passion. A fellow thrill-seeker, Mark and I have endured weekends of tick-infested hiking trails; we’ve picked dozens of the deadly little vampires off of one another every fifteen minutes for two hours, our only reprieve being a serene and solitary midday skinny dipping sojourn on Bellows Pond, off County Route 24.
We recently purchased a used infrared sauna and I now wake, enjoy a light breakfast of yogurt and coffee, rehydrate with two pitchers of lemon water, indulge in a twenty to thirty minute sweat in the sauna, followed by skinny dipping and floating in Shinnecock Bay: HEAVEN!
Yesterday, Mark’s curiosity piqued, he inquired what I will do to close my pores this coming winter. He knows I hate the cold and would never willingly run the forty yards, naked, through snow and below-freezing temperatures to plunge into the icy bay.
I answered, out of my past, without a beat:
Perhaps… yet another (nude!) passion… ?