Naturists defending the draft plan to allow nude fishing and swimming on Kapiti Coast beaches argue that nudity is not about sex but about freedom of expression, self- respect and living in harmony with nature.
It's a valid argument, but one that has been utterly undermined by this newspaper's decision to illustrate its story on the fracas with a photo of naked fisherman Steve Porteous, possessor of what I believe may well be the finest pair of buttocks in the lower North Island.
I haven't had the pleasure of meeting Mr Porteous, but I can safely say that – in the interests of research, of course – I am now very familiar with every detail of his nude fishing photo. The picture features a lean, bronzed Mr Porteous standing in foaming surf (all very From Here to Eternity) clutching in one hand – as if the symbolism wasn't enough already – a large rod.
I am all in favour of nudity on Kapiti Coast beaches, and indeed in the park near my house, if everyone involved is as buff as Mr Porteous. In fact, I'd be prepared to march in the streets and hurl flour bombs in support of the draft bylaw if the naturists in question were, say, Daniel Craig, Brad Pitt, George Bridgewater, Michael Madsen and Dan Carter.
Unfortunately, they are not. The tragic irony of public nudity is that its appeal is largely confined to the ranks of the middle- aged and paunchy. The requirements for joining a naturist organisation have long been an excess of belly fat, a fondness for ping pong and caravanning, and a penchant for outdated accessories: sweatbands, towelling hats and the sandal/sock combo. Far from being a hotbed of perversion, most naturists emit all the raw sexuality of Bob the Builder.
Critics of the bylaw have suggested nude swimmers and fishermen may become a magnet for oglers, but this seems unlikely if the usual naturist crowd are an indication of the quality of flesh on offer. These are not the kind of people I'd slink through the dunes to capture with my telephoto lens; frankly, I'd be hurling myself into the sea to avoid them.
Still, the Kapiti coastline is such a joyfully deserted expanse of sand and sea for most of the year that you'd have to try hard to find a naked swimmer or fisherman to be offended by. Naturally, that hasn't discouraged the nation's chief fun-spoiler, Family First national director Bob McCoskrie, from poking his nose in.
"Once again, the protection of families and the welfare of our children are being cast aside in favour of so-called freedom of expression and tolerance to nakedness," thundered McCoskrie, who believes he holds some sort of god-given mandate to represent the rights of The Family – an entity which, under his definition, is not strong, diverse and adaptable but sickly, fragile and as prone to sudden disintegration as an icecream cone eaten on the beach in the heat of a midsummer day.
"I think at the end of the day we actually need to draw a line in the sand and we need to say that nudity is not acceptable where you've got families; where you've got children," he added. It's a peculiar comment, given that most children love nothing more than to whip their clothes off and tear around starkers.
Interestingly, the delicate sensibilities of children are also exhibit A in the current battle to prevent dogs being allowed off- lead on Kapiti beaches. At the risk of incurring the wrath of dog-haters yet again, I have to say it's depressing to see the growing numbers of parents who think they're doing their kids a favour by encouraging them to be frightened of dogs.
In McCoskrie's case, I suspect his real concern is not the nudity itself, but who practises it: not respectable heteros, but gay people. Gay people apparently pose an enormous risk to The Family, though, mystifyingly, they seem to have left mine alone.
Anyway, as far as I'm concerned, anything Bob McCoskrie is opposed to is fine by me. I'll be supporting Kapiti Coast District Council's nudity bylaw plan, even if widespread take-up of public nudity will prevent me in future from tapping local fishermen on the shoulder and asking them to show me what they have in their basket. Unless, of course, that fisherman happens to be Steve Porteous.
- The Dominion Post