Last Sunday morning Geraldine Carton woke up at 7.30am in order to complete this week’s “A first time for everything” activity. Her challenge? To go jump into the Irish sea for a swim, but to do so without so much as a watch on her wrist.
Skinny dipping requires very little preparation; no bikinis needed to be wrangled from the back of wardrobes, no bras to be hoisted on. All I need is the clothes I'm wearing for the drive there, a towel, and then I'm ready to rock.
Convincing someone to join me that Sunday morning presents the first struggle. As a rule, Irish people generally keep their skinny dipping endeavours to nights on summer holidays when no one can see their naked frames. They certainly don’t do it in a public place where they can be spotted by locals on their way home from Sunday mass.
In the end my good friend Sarah agrees to come along, and thus at 9am on an overcast Sunday morning we find ourselves overlooking Killiney bay, or more specifically, overlooking the nudist hotspot locally known as the Vico Baths.
Mooning the world at large
As we make our way down to the bathing area, I feel ill. My main concern revolves around creeps creeping on us, plus the cold. Sarah is more worried about bumping into someone she knows, like a past employer or an ex. I feel a hundred times more sick after she presents this possibility. This is Ireland, after all. When do you not bump into someone?
Thankfully, only three men are present when we arrive. All were absolutely, positively stark naked (but none of them had been either of our past employers, thank God).
Despite our efforts to act maturely in this situation, we struggle to get past the novelty of bearing witness to strangers going about their business entirely unclothed. Many giggles are muffled into our towels as we avert our gaze and find a spot to put our bags down.
We decide to wait until the nearby sitting man gets into the water before we take the plunge ourselves. Sitting Man proceeds to light up a cigarette and check his emails, clearly in no rush to go anywhere.
After what feels like an age, Sitting Man finally gets in for his dip and returns.
Now it is our turn.
What had been a place of calm serenity is suddenly subjected to screams and squawks as we cast off our towels and scamper down into the sea, mooning the world at large.
The naked truth
As we wade in, those bits that usually never get a “look-in” suddenly find themselves experiencing the crescendo of sea waves. There are no bikini bottoms or swimsuits to soften the blow now. And so the screaming and squawking continues, until our bodies become so numb that we can’t feel the cold anymore.
The naked swimming is actually lovely and refreshing and revitalising, but everyone knows that about skinny dipping, that’s the whole reason people love it. What I was not expecting, however, was the transformation that would take place in the time between us flinging off our towels, and when we wrapped them back around ourselves.
In the water, we became awashed with a sense of serenity. Every human body has “imperfections”; whether it’s a saggy bum, a rolling tum or a gammy leg. Seeing this in full sight meant that the “imperfect” body suddenly became the norm.
There was no need to hide anything, and this realisation gave us a splash of clarity, confidence and sense of self, something we clearly needed. Whilst we scamper into the water like a couple of hysterical school-girls, desperate to get in as quickly as possible; we come out slowly and confidently. No more screaming, no more squawking. Charlie's Angels have nothing on us at this moment in time.
My conclusion on skinny dipping? Yes, it’s scary. Yes, it’s daunting. But as this column is teaching me with every subsequent week; when life is injected with a few instances of vulnerability and a healthy splash of terror, it’s a lot more interesting and sometimes even a bit transformational.
(That being said, by the time we returned to where our clothes lay, we proceeded to attempt that age-old Irish manoeuvre of awkwardly putting clothes back on under a towel so as to show off as little skin as possible. And this, after having just skinny dipped in front of a load of strangers. Go figure.)