Reporter's notebook: Skinny-dipping into history

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Photo by Nick Vlcek
Have you ever heard of East Bethel? Be honest.

Thought so.

For those who have heard of it, East Bethel is just another small town in Minnesota, full of open fields, liquor stores and meth labs (kidding!). But it turns out that East Bethel is also home to one of our state's best kept secrets when it comes to family recreation - Avatan, Minnesota's largest nudist club.

Never heard of it? Neither had I until a couple of weeks ago when I made the trip out to see the club with my own eyes, and help set the world record for largest group skinny dipping.

(In case you missed it: Read the full-frontal feature now)

That afternoon, Avatan managed to record an impressive 223 simultaneous skinny dippers. However, the record was much farther-reaching than just Minnesota, as we were just one of over 270 nudist clubs and resorts participating in the coordinated effort, organized by Avatan's parent organization the American Association for Nude Recreation (AANR). Since then I've learned that combined grand total is just over 12,600 participants - and that's with only half of the clubs reporting.

Over the past few days, I've been talking with a lot of my friends about my experience, and dispelling a lot of the same misconceptions about the club that I had when I first heard about it. While I think that some people probably wouldn't ask these questions out of fear of sounding naïve or like a huge perv, I totally understand that if you've never been to a place like Avatan, you're going to be curious. That's why right now, I'm going to knock out a couple of these questions to help give you a better idea of what Avatan is - and isn't - all about:

So, it's a nudist club so I'm guessing there's tons of sex, right? Like, so much sex that your brain is ready to explode from all the sexiness? Come on bro, give me the details!

Whoa there chief, let's pull it back for a second. To be honest, Avatan is the complete opposite. There were no group orgies happening on the front lawn, drunks hiding out in the woods waiting to accost you at every turn or creepy dudes hanging around asking to lotion you up every five seconds.

Ask anyone who has ever been to the campground and they'll tell you the same thing - Avatan is a family-friendly place where men, women and children can relax and be free to embrace their nudity without feeling like anyone is judging them. 

OK, fine. So I bet it was a bunch of young hotties sitting around, getting drunk and checking each other out, right? Come on bro-ski, let's have at it!

That's strike two on the "bros."

Before I ever stepped foot into the club, I spoke with Bob, a long-time member of Avatan and the pseudo PR guy for the group. I asked him this same question over the phone (in a slightly-less bro-tastic way), and I think he summed it up best.

"We are not the beautiful people," he said. "We've got people who are overweight, underweight, young and old. If you think you're coming here for a show, you're sadly mistaken."

That's not to say that there weren't attractive people at the club, but it was definitely the same type of crowd you would find at any other campground. Were there younger 20 and 30-something-year-olds with tattoos and piercings? There were. Were there naked kids playing in the pool, smacking each other with Styrofoam noodles? Yep. Any elderly folks wandering around naked? Absolutely. Like I said, it's just like any other campground...just with less clothes.

Psssh, whatever bro...I mean dude. There had to be tons of dudes pitching some major tents, right?

(Author's note: Is it weird that all of the non-existent characters in mind sound like Keanu Reeves in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure? Just a question.)

When I was hanging out in the clubhouse at Avatan watching a group of older visitors set up for a watercolor painting class, I was able to chat with Bob a little bit more and I asked him that same thing.

"That's always a question that we get asked by guys," he said. "The first question I almost always get is, 'what happens if you get a boner?' I try to explain to them that it's not an issue around here, because we're not a sexual place. No one here is doing anything out of the ordinary that would cause you that type of reaction, because a bunch of people hanging out in the woods naked isn't really anything to get excited about."

"Unless you're into 60-year-old women with gray hair and saggy boobs; then you might be in trouble," he laughed.

(Author's note: In case you're curious, the answer is yes, I did giggle when he said boner. I'm mature like that.)

OK, one more. The naked Coors Light cowboy; was he for real? Or is he just someone that lives in your dreams?

Oh, he's real. Very real. And very amazing.


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