Nude Beach Courage: How to Get Naked on Orient Beach, St. Martin

Naked Truths
Would you bare it all on a nude beach? Here's why you should go for it.Britt Spencer

My husband and I encourage people to be their best. We’re professional life coaches, dedicated to helping our clients discover the things that make them come alive, the things that bring them joy. We teach them to live life to its fullest, boldly.

For better or worse, we take our own advice. But sometimes, the "boldly" is the hardest part. Fifteen years ago, we took a weeklong honeymoon cruise to the Caribbean, a relaxing start to a new life together after the fanfare of a big traditional wedding. On our second day at sea, we joined a hundred other passengers in the glitzy Las Vegas-style lounge as the ship's cruise director told us what to expect at our first port of call — the island of St. Martin.

“The island is half French and half Dutch,” he said. “You may have heard about the nude beaches on the French side.” There was a smattering of snickers before the voice behind the microphone intoned, “Don’t get excited — you won’t see Bo Derek on the beach; it’s gonna be more like Bo Diddley.”

The next morning, we conquered our hesitation and grabbed a cab to the famously clothing-optional Orient Beach — just to see what all the fuss was about. We began our excursion on the clothed side, feeling the soft sand beneath our feet and the sun warming our tanned faces. We found a spot and planted ourselves. But it wasn't long before curiosity got best of us and we unplanted, making our way up the beach, past a sign that warned us to leave cameras behind.

And there they were: beachgoers sans suits, nude couples relaxing with their children, all of them un-self-consciously sunbathing, swimming and strolling. Hiding behind our sunglasses (and our bathing suits), we walked and walked, taking it all in.

When we came to the end of the beach, we realized we had also come to a decision point. We could amble through again as clothed tourists, or we could seize a priceless opportunity to get in on the fun, naked and anonymous, halfway across the world. We went for it.

And so off came our suits. We began walking hand in hand, ear-to-ear smiles on our bright, slightly embarrassed faces. The Caribbean air felt incredible on our skin, and we felt a little smug, having shed with our clothes the irrational need to hide our bodies and their imperfections. We felt joyfully alive.

That feeling lasted all of about half a minute. Just a few yards ahead of us, leisurely walking our way, were one of my husband’s co-workers and his fiancée, fully clothed and taking in the sights.

In hindsight (recognizing the limits of their hind-sighting), we should have simply turned around and walked the other way. Instead, we freaked. The fight-or-flight response kicked in, and we ran up the beach, dodging coolers, ducking around beach chairs and jumping over picnics, with my underwire bikini top waving behind us like a neon traffic flag all the while. Only when we were safely away and scrambling to get our suits back on did we glance up: Where a few minutes earlier we’d marveled at how wonderful it was that no one was looking at us, now everyone was looking at us. We found our towels and a cab, but our dignity was AWOL.

At our table of six that evening, during the nightly ritual of “What did you do today?” we sheepishly recounted our experience. And to our surprise, our table mates cheered! The two other couples were in awe, wishing they had had the courage to do what we did. Our mood moved slowly from sheer embarrassment to pride in our bravery.

And then, with sitcom timing, my hubby kicked me under the table. His co-worker and companion had spotted us and were rushing over with warm hellos and hugs — the couple were on their honeymoon and had coincidentally booked the same cruise. My husband and I (and our table mates, who were busy guffawing into dessert) scanned their eyes for signs that they had seen our mad naked dash over Orient Beach, but they seemed none the wiser. We definitely felt wiser, though maybe not quite so bold.