By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
IT'S A SATURDAY AFTERNOON IN JULY, and I'm standing in a pool with 222 other people, all of us completely naked.
Behind me floats a married couple clearly older than my parents. About three feet in front of me there's a little boy, maybe five years old at most, and he's bare-assed as well. Oh, and wandering around the outside of the pool, counting the number of people in the water, is a real-life priest—and he's completely nude except for a pair of Crocs.
I'm standing in the middle of history as Minnesota's largest nudist club, Avatan, sets the world record for the biggest group skinny-dip.
Located in East Bethel (the Las Vegas of the Midwest, as I like to call it), Avatan has long been the premier destination for nudists in Minnesota. For over 50 years, this 40-acre, family-friendly campground has allowed men, women, and children of all ages to enjoy a fun, stress-free getaway from their clothes. Kind of like Disney World, but with genitals instead of Goofy.
While I'd love to say something really journalistic like, "This ain't your daddy's campground," the truth of the matter is that it kind of is your daddy's campground, if your dad does everything nude. The folks I met throughout the day were the same sweet, fun-loving people you'd encounter at any other wooded campground in Minnesota—they just also happened to be doing it au natural.
In fact, Avatan is about the most family-oriented place I've ever been. And I've been to Chuck-E-Cheese. A lot.
Now then, about that world record.
MY DAY STARTED OFF AROUND NOON. I was standing in my bathroom, rubbing suntan lotion all over myself, focusing primarily on the parts that had never seen the sun. After spending 20 to 30 minutes lathering up my sensitive regions—for the sake of safety, of course—I was out the door.
A couple of days earlier, I had done some research online, trying to picture what this place would be like. From the club's website—the surprisingly safe-for-work www.avatan.com—I knew I should expect to see a wide range of ages and body types, but I still couldn't quite figure out what 200+ skinny-dippers would look like. I had always equated nudism with the '70s and the whole hippie free-love thing, and I couldn't quite grasp how that would translate to today—less hair, maybe?
To better prepare myself, I spent the evening before watching the movie Cocoon, paying close attention to the swimming-pool scenes.
Avatan's address is in a rural area, and as I drove down the country road, I couldn't find the club to save my life. I went back and forth down this same road five times, looking for a billboard, to no avail. (Later I would learn that the lack of signage and advertising around the club is no accident; it's to keep the riffraff out.)
After a good 15 minutes of searching, I called the club and got directions. Soon after I pulled into the driveway, I came upon a couple of guys directing traffic. They were wearing orange, reflective vests, flip-flops, and nothing else.
Good thing they're wearing the vests, I thought. Otherwise I might not have noticed the naked dudes standing in the road.
They waved me in and directed me to a parking spot next to a campsite. I parked my car, hopped out, and saw a younger guy sitting in a lawn chair wearing just a cowboy hat and work boots, smoking a cigarette and enjoying a Coors Light (the Unofficial Beer of Nude World Records). He welcomed me and pointed me to the registration table to sign in.
On a normal day, new guests must first take a tour of the grounds with a host couple, who explain the rules of the club and answer any questions. But there were only 30 minutes until the record-setting event, so I was told the tour could wait until afterward.
I wandered down to the climate-controlled pool and glanced out at a sea of naked bodies bobbing up and down in the water, soaking in the sun, waiting to make history. I put down my beach bag and towel and took a deep breath, trying to decide my next move.
While I would love to say I was totally ready to rock out right from the get-go, I have to admit I was a bit apprehensive at first. Prior to this, I'd only been nude in front of one person at a time, unless you count the shower in gym class, and even then I was the guy who usually wore a bathing suit (my childhood is sad). So I decided to stay clothed for at least a few minutes to get the lay of the land.
At Avatan, nudity isn't required, so no one said a word to me about sporting my floral-print swimsuit and T-shirt. I figured I wouldn't be the only shy one, that I would likely see other first-timers wandering around at least partially clothed, wondering what the hell they'd gotten themselves into.