Sequestered in the loft of a family-style pizzeria, the atmosphere of the small gathering was full of excited conversation and laughter. "We're a little out of uniform tonight, but we're in Rancho Bernardo-get used to it," said Brian Spence, the 32-year-old owner of San Diego-based Naturally California, a nudist club sponsored by the American Association for Nude Recreation (AANR).
About 20 adults sat-clothed-at long, picnic-style tables, as they enjoyed a club "Pizza Nite," held to inform and greet potential new members.
Naturally California, with a current membership of about 100, Spence said, is the only nudist club in the nation "that regularly rents out roller-skating rinks and is not scared of road rash. Goes on whale watching trips on the Pacific Ocean wearing the same thing the whales do."
In addition to private social activities, club members often participate nude in activities like hiking, horseshoes, rock climbing, barbecues, bike riding and dances at DeAnza Springs Resort, a clothing optional facility in Jacumba. They also attend nudist festivals and take trips to Torrey Pines' famous Black's Beach (in the state-owned part of which, nudity, while technically illegal, has been traditionally tolerated).
Confronting one of the first questions many non-nudists ask-is getting turned on part of the nude experience?-Spence emphasized that Naturally California is a family-oriented, completely nonsexual social club environment where people come to find camaraderie and friendship.
But why clothes-free?
"I don't have a perfect body," Spence answered. "Most of the people in this room-we aren't Barbie and Ken by a long shot. Yet we're comfortable in our own skin." Spence said when he goes to a beach or pool where swimwear is required, "I'm instantly judged by everyone in attendance. They see the spare tire hanging over the swimsuit, and they laugh. I'm not self-conscious nude because I know I'm accepted by the other nudists for who I am-not what I look like."
As for would-be participants who show up with unsavory intentions, Spence said individuals who inappropriately approach or spend a lot of time staring at other people don't last long. "[When they find] it isn't a big orgy, they'll just leave on their own within 20 minutes, and I'll never hear from them again," he said.
But deep relationships have been forged. Naturally California club members Claudia Kellersch and Blair Brumley, along with most of their wedding guests, celebrated their 2002 nuptials in the nude at DeAnza.
Spence described the club's membership as a cross-section of society. "If you want to know who nudists are, go to Fashion Valley, look at the next 50 people that walk past you and imagine them naked," he suggested.
Spence observed that many of the activities nudists indulge in during spare time and vacations require expendable income. Example: Kellersch recently joined 90 other nudists on the world's first "Naked Air" charter flight from Miami to Cancun.
Another demographic: "Most nudists are Republicans," Spence revealed.
Spence first experienced nude recreation as a young adult when he and a group of friends stumbled upon Black's Beach one day. Sitting on the sand, laughing and making jokes in the middle of 2,000 naked people, Spence said it took about 45 minutes for him to go from "I couldn't do that!" to "What the hell, why not?"
After that, Spence discovered area clubs like Corona's Glen Eden Sun Club, where he ultimately served as vice president and director of marketing. By starting Naturally California in 1999, he said, "I think I'm making the world a better place. Nudists have a lot less stress [than the general population]. We're friendlier."
As to whether, for safety's sake, some activities should never be undertaken in the nude, Spence replied, "We're nudists, not idiots. If you're out playing tennis all day and start to get sunburned... you might not [put on] pants, but you can wear a t-shirt to protect yourself."
Today, according to the AANR, the state with the most nude recreation clubs is Florida, followed by California. Climate plays a big part, but "there are nudists in Alaska," Spence noted. "They're everywhere."
The group's monthly evening swims at a rented Escondido health club include water volleyball, lap swimming, Jacuzzi and sauna. And, Spence pointed out, "they've got those Styrofoam noodles in the water, [so] the other half of the pool is just a bunch of people floating around nude, socializing."
But he warned that once a person gets used to swimming nude, wearing a bathing suit becomes tremendously uncomfortable. Spence shuddered at the thought of a particular embarrassment. "With a bathing suit on, every time you get in a Jacuzzi, you have these big bubbles coming up out of your shorts," he explained.
"It's like having an inflatable around your waist," Kellersch agreed, laughing.
Since the start of his nudist odyssey, Spence said he's introduced hundreds of people to nude recreation. He described novices, during the first few minutes after taking off their clothes, as "visibly shaken."
But soon, "they realize they're not bound by their clothes," he said. "That freedom-it's huge."