Some sports lend themselves to naked participation more than others. Paul Rouse adjudicates.
Taking part in sport in the nude has a long history. The Greeks not only had a word for it - gymnasium derives from gymnos, meaning naked - but seemingly practiced it at every opportunity.
The Spartans spent most of their time in the nude, and we’re all familiar with images of naked wresters and athletes from classical antiquity: a tradition carried down even into the poster art of the Olympic Games well into the twentieth century, despite the fact that by that time, western society had long deemed that public nudity was taboo, leaving nude sport largely in the realm of genteel naturist clubs. There’s a good reason why naked volleyball and naked boules have become such entrenched images in the minds of the general public.
But perhaps things are changing. It’s debatable as to whether you actually define recreational cycling or mass swimming as ‘sports’ - but events such as the World Naked Bike Ride and the current plethora of charity/record-breaking skinny-dips have at least put the subject back in the headlines.
Of course you can, in theory, practice just about any sport in the nude, given the right circumstances, location, and willing fellow participants. But some sports - either in terms of opportunity, enjoyment, practicality, comfort or safety - lend themselves to nudity better than others.
There are literally hundreds of different sports, and it would be impossible to even try to cover them all. But setting aside what I would define more as activities (such as walking or climbing for instance), and disregarding joke ‘sports’ like ice-dancing and synchronised swimming, here are some random thoughts on the matter...
ON THE WATER
There are few better feelings than water against your bare skin. Sailing and surfing in the nude are both amazing experiences, trans-Atlantic rowers swear by the practice, and swimming is something that should ONLY be done naked. I’m less convinced about watersports such as surfing or water-skiing: my rule of thumb is the faster you go, the harder you’re going to hit the water, and there’s something to be said about a little protection from a swimming costume or wetsuit.
IN THE AIR
In space, or at least heading in that direction, no one can hear you scream. Nor, most of the time, can they see you either. So it makes sense that if you’re up, up and away in a balloon, small aircraft, or attached to something like a parachute, why wouldn’t you be naked? It just depends on where you are going to land.
As well as the ubiquitous volleyball, sports like tennis, badminton and table tennis are staples of many naturist clubs, and good fun with no clothes on. As for squash - see my theory above about speed. There are a handful of places you can play naked golf, and it’s a great way of getting an all-over tan rather than a golfer’s one, although quite where you put your tee pins I’m not sure. Naked cricket is fine, as long as it’s the beach variety. With a proper cricket ball heading in the direction of where your box should be, it wouldn’t just be the bowler asking for the new ball. Nor do football and rugby, at least competitively, really lend themselves to being played naked: the word tackle takes on a completely different meaning, and in any case, how could you tell your team-mates from your opponents? There have been football matches in the past where the naked players have been daubed in body paint as an alternative to shirts, but they have usually involved glamour models, so have had little to do with naturism. And as for women’s football anyway, isn’t that a contradiction in terms?
Cycling seems to be one of the world’s newest sporting crazes, and as with horse riding, there’s a lot to be said for travelling along at speed with a cooling wind on your body. Watch out for chafing however. Personally I’ve never seen the point of motor sport per se, and even if you’re a fan, what advantage would there be in anybody doing it naked, and they’re sat inside a car? Besides, where would the sponsors put their logos?
We’ve all seen photos of hardy souls who have braved the elements to pose naked in the snow. Your back garden is one thing, as you can always race inside to a roaring fire. You’re a little more exposed, literally, halfway up a mountain. Naked skiing, skating, sledding or snowboarding? The thought is probably more appealing than the reality. And if you want to know what frostbite can do to your extremities, read David Niven’s The Moon’s A Balloon.
Wrestling, as we know, used to be done in the nude, as did sumo wrestling when it was practiced by women, before it became the preserve of fat men in nappies. And if you’re into naked mud wrestling, you’re probably looking at the wrong website. However, many of the gentler martial arts (at least the ones that don’t involve weapons) could also just as easily be done naked as clothed: all you’d need to wear is your appropriately-coloured belt.
Purists might argue that darts is a glorified pub game rather than a sport, but there’s no reason why it can’t be enjoyed naked. When you step up the oche, just make sure your aim is true. As for snooker in the raw, men might fantasise about the scene in the movie “10” in which Dudley Moore ends up in his neighbour’s house playing against a bevy of naked Californian beauties. In reality, your opponent is probably more likely to look like Bill Werbeniuk.
Running, gymnastics, archery, basketball...the list goes on. And the more sports you can enjoy naked yourself, the better. It’s highly unlikely of course that we will ever return to the days when Olympic competitors displayed their sporting prowess in the buff, but you never know. London 2012 was a resounding triumph. But just think how many more would have tuned in if the competitors in the beach volleyball or on Super Saturday had been naked?