Hasting’s First World Naked Bike Ride, 2014 #WNBR

Last year I took part in my first World Naked Bike Ride.  Coincidentally the ride I elected to take part in was also a first, Hasting’s first WNBR which suited me because as a new ride, numbers were much lower and I’m not exactly confident on a bike.

A number of my friends have ridden on WNBR rides for years and quite a few organise and marshal the events so I had plenty of people to turn to for advice to allay my qualms, not only about my distinct lack of cycling prowess but also as a woman and naturist, taking part in such a public event.

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For those of you who have never witnessed or taken part in a WNBR ride, they’re joyous occasions transmitting a deadly serious message.  Although I haven’t cycled much in adulthood, I’m environmentally conscious, a belief structure which underpins the naturist community.  

Supported by naturists and non naturists, these rides are fundamentally protest rides designed to highlight the deleterious effect we are collectively imposing upon our broken planet.  Consequently riders who take part draw attention to the WNBR aims by daubing themselves in slogans such as ‘think bike’,  ‘it’s oil over,’ ‘less gas more ass’ and in some instances sporting full body paint or dressing up.

As an active networker and naturist, although a recent convert to public naturism (I joined British Naturism in May 2011), I quickly grew a large naturist network, both in the UK and overseas.  One member of my network, Richard Foley a British ex-pat now residing in Germany became a good friend and we communicated actively about naturism/nudism.  

A published author and founder of a free international naturist/nudist networking site the Naktiv Network, Richard has been involved with naturism for many years and is passionate about the WNBR and what it stands for.  In 2012, Richard published his book on the World Naked Bike Ride and asked me to review it for him.  

Many of the questions I had about the ride were dispelled.  The questions I had about my cycling abilities remained and still do to this day.  I do have a bike now but I am still loathe to go out on it unless I am chaperoned.  Lame I know!

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Hastings pictured during the WNBR 2014

I’m a member of Diogenes Sun Club, a large family-friendly naturist club in Buckinghamshire, one of the counties bordering London where I live.  Another member Andy Crawford kindly agreed to take me to the ride and keep an eye out for me which was reassuring.  Andy and I get on well.  He has a great sense of humour and is equally blunt and outspoken which can be a blessing or a curse, depending on your viewpoint.

As the ride approached I was still wrestling with the thought of being fully naked given how public these rides are.  Not because I have any issues about nudity but because as a woman I have concerns about the invasive, predatory individuals who leech around these rides with their macro telephoto lenses, whose quest appears to be to take as many photos of the women in attendance as they possibly can and upload them, goodness only knows where on the web.

After reviewing Richard’s book, the activist in me was stirred to think I would do the ride naked.  Nudity serves to highlight the vulnerability of cyclists and being stripped bare on a WNBR ride simply brandishing slogans helps to emphasise the key environmental messages, which the founders of the World Naked Bike Rides were striving to convey to maximum effect.

The body is judged in society just as clothes can demark people.  Every year at least one council representative becomes apoplectic with indignation that a WNBR ride is scheduled to pass through their town or city, failing to take into account that nudity is perfectly legal in England and perfectly normal!

However, most people who favour public nudity, whether ascribing to the term naturist or nudist, choose not to ‘flaunt’ their nudity as some of the tabloids would attest. The WNBR is designed as a peaceful protest, the body brandished for emphasis. 

Nudity still has the power to shock and sadly for many, nudity is wrapped up with sexual connotations, hence the neurotic assumption that a naked body is automatically associated with sex.  It’s an assumption we constantly have to challenge in the naturist community, especially in relation to children.  Infact children who are brought up as naturists are likely to have higher body confidence and self esteem and be more conversant with so-called societal ‘norms’ and perceptions and how the modern media projects its cultural and gender bias.  In turn, this fosters disharmony between the sexes with its pervasive, malign misogyny and in turn encourages a whole host of eating disorders; anorexia nervosa, bulimia, body dysmorphia, low self worth, low confidence.  I could go on….

By encouraging riders to go ‘as bare as you dare’ the founders of the WNBR intended rides gain the optimum amount of publicity and coverage.  However, in recent years in the UK, national media has appeared to fight shy of covering the rides although the local press will cover it widely and generally with good humour, acknowledging why participants take part naked or partially clothed and stressing the environmental issues at stake.

So what did I decide to do on my first ride?  I chickened out and wore knickers.  As a naturist, I’m not shy in getting the message out about naturism and our community.  I did a short interview with Stephen Smith on Newsnight after all but the prospect of those telephoto lenses was more than I could bear.

The ride itself was a relatively gentle, circular six miler, taking in the beautiful promenade and seafront and fringing the shops, which were lined with a combination of largely supportive bystanders.

A carnival atmosphere prevails on the WNBR rides.   Daubed in colourful slogans, some head to toe in body paint, riders honk, cars toot and some members of the public shout out in support while the occasional person crows or chooses to shield their child’s eyes from the sight of a raft of naked people cycling past. As a parent and a naturist I feel sorry for the children, it just serves to perpetuate the ridiculous notion that the body is something to be ashamed of.  My children are completely comfortable with the human body, having been brought up with a naturist parent although there are times when I  embarrass them morbidly.  Isn’t that the role of a parent ;)?

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Hastings frontage

Numbering about fifty, we set off from Alexandra Park, escorted by Sussex Police.  I’d hired a bike from Bell’s Bicycles.  What a treasure this shop is and I got exactly what I’d requested, an old fashioned sit-up-and-beg bike.  I don’t do gears darlings.

Initially I was nervous and useless quite frankly but by the end of the ride I was whizzing along, emboldened somewhat by PC John Beacham’s presence who was safely astride a robust touring bike.

PC Beacham was one of the police who had been assigned to ensure the ride progressed peacefully and safely.  I spent much of the ride at the front of the convey where my wobbling gait couldn’t bring other riders down but also to highlight the fact women also participate in these rides and we can be top free too!

Probably because of the reasons I outlined earlier, women are less likely to take part although nudity isn’t mandatory.  “As bare as you dare,” is a key message churned out by the ride organisers and one lady who joined the ride spontaneously on the day having heard about the ride that morning, took part with her boyfriend and participated fully clothed.  It’s more about taking part and embracing the key environmental issues the ride seeks to promote.

We stopped for a quick break along the route near a lovely little park where I discovered Harold and Edith.

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Ever the joker, I seconded Andy to replicate the pose

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And PC Beacham proved to be a real sport too.  I did warn him I was a blogger and his picture was likely to end up all over the web.

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After the ride, Sussex Police stuck with us so we were able to have an impromptu skinny dip without being unduly harassed.  There was the odd catcall but passers by who were keen to impress upon them why we were butt naked, brandishing slogans settled the taunters down and we enjoyed half an hour or so on the beach.

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Roger Coupe, one of the Hastings WNBR organisers after Hastings WNBR 2014

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Today is the second Hastings WNBR. Sadly I can’t be there but I have friends who will be, organisers and riders.  If you are in the area, why not go along to show your support or better still, take part?

People are meeting at 1230pm in Alexandra Park and the ride starts at 130pm.  Rain is forecast but what better way to spend a rainy Sunday. Live a little 🙂

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WNBR. Hastings World Naked Bike Ride 2015

TODAY, Sunday 31 May 2015http://bit.ly/1SJoyIW

WNBR Hastings, Facebook grouphttp://on.fb.me/1rfx9If

WNBR Hastings, Facebook event page:  http://on.fb.me/1JaSiLT

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My first nude run at the Naturist Foundation

“See if you can beat Emma James!” crowed the Naturist Foundation via twitter last September,  knowing that I’m all over the web like a rash, sporty and I was booked in on the BHnude5K .

I groaned.  I might enjoy running but I’m so slow, my son can run faster than me backwards!  What I lose in speed, I gain in endurance but you wouldn’t have known it last September. I’d have given up half way through, if it wasn’t for the fact it was a race,

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In recent years, my running has varied from spluttering starts to regular training.  At one stage I was running up to 2 hours 20 minutes.  That’s what I now strive for but I’m currently in spluttering mode, aided and abetted by insomnia.

I favour running solo, seeking out woods and trails like a bloodhound.  With my infamous sense of direction (ask my children Alice and Arthur) I’m limited to running in one direction and then at the appointed landmark, increase my distance by a field or two, turn tail and run back.

Unencumbered by modern day trappings; keys/phone.  I carry water and when I run far enough to justify it, hydration tabs, stripping off as I go along and on my return, retrieving clothing.

The BHnude5K provided the first official opportunity I’ve had to run naked and I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about running nude on the day even though I’m a pretty hard core naturist because my breasts are normally bound up in a sports bra.  Knowing this was a rare chance to run naked, outdoors and not get lost!  I decided to dispense with the bra and stood in line, waiting to be marked up with a fetching shade of red lippy.

Number 24.  BHnude5K, Sept 2014

Number 24. BHnude5K, Sept 2014

It was a glorious day on 21 September 2014, just as it was on 17 May 2014 for the most recent BHnude5K. I’d travelled a short distance from my sister’s nearby where I stayed overnight with the family so I was refreshed, having turfed nephew Tom out of his bed for the night.  Not my decision.  Poor Tom.

The first thing that struck me about the Naturist Foundation was the scale of the site which boasts around fifty acres of lush green English countryside and the range of amenities which naturists expect and hope for.

The large community hall, containing a thriving cafe and bar, also houses the office where race participants were being duly ticked off on arrival and routed through to collect their numbers.  Organised by Dave Walton, the race has been running for a number of years and is meticulously planned.

I’m not sure how many we numbered in total last September.  In the region of 60 runners I believe but this May, Brockenhurst had a record 110 entrants.  Dave is excellent at getting the word out via various forums on the internet and leverages the Runners World chat forums to great effect where the prospect of a nude run raises the standard good humoured banter but also generates interest and participants.

Lined up at the start, I started chatting to an affable wirey man who wasn’t a naturist but entered the race along with the rest of us, in naturist mode and having completed the race reverted to ‘textile’ mode.

I hadn’t been training actively in the weeks leading up to the race and was sharing my qualms with Richard? (I have a dreadful memory for names) who kindly offered to run with me.  I think he was joking because he sailed past me pretty quickly and ended up as the ultimate winner.

The Naturist Foundation 'Brockenhurst.'  Main camping field and starting point for BHnude5K September 2014

The Naturist Foundation ‘Brockenhurst.’ Main camping field and starting point for BHnude5K September 2014

The route wends itself around the woods encircling Brockenhurst’s amenities and was well marshalled. Members of the club lined the route to encourage and point us in the right direction or added good humoured quips from the relative comfort of their deckchairs, as we periodically came out into the bowels of the site itself and ran through the static camping areas.

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Although I hadn’t been training consistently, I was surprised how awful I felt on the run.  Even the water at checkpoints wasn’t helping and I was uncharacteristically breathless.  What I hadn’t appreciated was that I was sickening for a bug and in retrospect, I could well have been running a temperature.  Like most sporty people though, I was damned if I was going to give up and finally trailed in with the final few runners at a desultory 35 minutes and 21 seconds.  At least that time should be easy to beat for future runs :).

Dave Walton, having now re-assigned himself as photographer, was skirting the course, snapping participants who were willing to be papped and presided over the awards ceremony.  My certificate has been on display in my bedroom since, along with an official post race picture.  Relieved and very pink.

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I spent a convivial few hours after the race chatting with a club stalwart Dennis and meandering around the club, taking pictures.  Of all the pictures I took that day, this one has to be my favourite

Russell and Shane playing table tennis at the Naturist Foundation

Russell and Shane playing table tennis at the Naturist Foundation

Housed in a spacious corrugated barn were about six table tennis tables (memory failure again) and two naturists, Russell and Shane enjoying a game.  I could easily see a tournament taking place here.

The Naturist Foundation hold regular events and have an active social programme in place so it’s not just runners who are catered for.  This coming weekend, 22-25th May, there’s the annual Spring Bash, the 25-28 June is the highly regarded Jazz and Real Ale Festival and during the summer holidays, Billy’s activity week is between 21-30 August.

An artistic club, they attract musicians and artists and hold regular plays which are lavish affairs, supported by clubs members and friends and family.

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The facilities at Brockenhurst mean that a wide range of sports are played out on a regular basis.  I didn’t take any pictures of their fabulous pool on the day I was there out of courtesy because in common with many naturist clubs, there’s invariably someone in the pool and you have to respect individual discretion. Not everyone is happy to be featured.

Childrens' play area.  The Naturist Foundation, Orpington, Kent

Childrens’ play area. The Naturist Foundation, Orpington, Kent

I’m looking forward to a return match and have marked the next BHnude5K in my diary on 27 September 2015.  It will also give me chance to spend time with my sister, husband and her five children.

“Aunty Em” as I’m known, enjoys turning up to visit with presents accumulated in the intervening months.  My children are too old to spoil like that anymore.  After returning, with presents duly dispensed Aunty Em retired, planning to return to Bucks on the Monday with a full working week on the cards.  It wasn’t to be.  My sister ended up with yet another person to look after!  I woke up with no voice and a raging temperature so naturally I attributed my dismal performance to the bug I was evidently brewing.  A fair assessment?  We’ll have to see.

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Useful URLs

Naturist Foundation @natfound: http://www.naturistfoundation.org/

BHnude5K, May 2015: http://bit.ly/Ysx8UB

Runners World @runnersworld (online)http://www.runnersworld.co.uk/forum/

Runners World (magazine)http://bit.ly/1LnnDc9

Discussions on Runners world for previous BHnude5Ks:   Start date 16/4/15 http://bit.ly/1L0kaPS &  21/8/14 http://bit.ly/1KXxHZp in advance of the May and September 2014 BHnude5K races respectively