In unison, on a strikingly perfect Florida afternoon, we all loosen the drawstrings on our swimsuits and wait with anticipation for our handsome tour guide Cody White to give us the greenlight. When he’s certain we’re now in a secluded part of gorgeous Sugarloaf Key, White give us the go ahead and we proceed to drop our Speedos and trunks to our feet. As we surrender our naked bodies to the Florida sun, we drift through the mangroves on our paddleboards, the swish of our oars the only sound to be heard for miles around. This is naked standup paddle boarding, and it’s awesome.
I first discover gay tour operator Nomadic SUP while staying at the Island House, the legendary men only, clothing-optional gay guesthouse in Old Town Key West. A poster sporting a picture of a buff (and in the buff) White paddling happily through the water catches my eye and when I see it’s an ad for a clothing optional “Natural Tour” of the Florida mangroves led by White himself, I book it without hesitation.
To be clear, Nomadic Sup is a completely legitimate and also family friendly tour operator. White and his
husband Ryan lead eco tours, private tours for couples, groups and families and sunset tours where the legendary Key West green flash is anticipated, but not guaranteed. (Boat adventures, both clothed and clothing optional are also available.) Also, White knows his stuff. In addition to being a naturist, he’s also a naturalist and can spot stingrays, barracuda, jellyfish, grouper, nurse sharks and other Sunshine State marine life with the laser beam focus of a determined hawk.
On the day of the tour, White picks me up in front of the Island House by White and I am all anticipation, not because the four of us (two other guys join the excursion) will be paddle boarding in our birthday suits (I am excited about that!), but because I have never done standup paddle boarding before and all I can think about is how many times my naked self is going to topple into the water.
The truth is, you don’t need any experience to take a tour, and to be honest, you only need the slightest bit of nerve to disrobe. Standup paddle boarding is about finding your equilibrium on the board, then paddling at your comfort level while enjoying the stunning scenery. I am amazed at how quickly I take to it. In the few times I’ve now performed the sport, I’ve never once fallen over nor have I seen it happen to anyone else, but I wouldn’t feel unsafe taking a spill—just a little clumsy.
Sugarloaf Key is about a 45-minute drive out of the city and as relaxed as Key West is, it’s nice to escape the tacky souvenir shops lining Duval Street, tourists queued up to snap a photo in front of the Southernmost Point sign and crowded beaches, if only for an afternoon. Along the way, White happily chats with us, points out nearby attractions and answers questions about the tour.
The real magic happens out on the water. White knows all the secret spots in the Florida Keys and after a quick paddle boarding tutorial guides us safely away from other boaters and fisherman—and the temptation of prying eyes. The mangroves are thick, dense, mysterious and filled with all kinds of creatures of the sea and with snacks, sunscreen (the Florida sun will spank you naked booty hard if you let it) and plenty of water in hand, the four of us navigate unspoiled terrain like a gay version of Lewis and Clarke.
Of course, the best part of the trip is when we’re in a secluded enough area of the mangroves that White removes his swim trunks and gives us the thumbs up to do the same. Off they all go, and it’s amazing! If you’ve ever been to a nude beach you already know the innocent thrill of running around naked in nature; it’s even better when there are literally zero gawkers. White also offers private tours for couples and groups of friends which empowers the inhibited to select the amount of privacy they desire. Of course, you can also choose to keep your swimsuit on. That would be a shame. Once you’re out on the water with a tour guide as non-judgmental (and drop dead gorgeous) as White, you’ll almost certainly want to strip down. The Conch Republic knows no judgement.
As for me, I would do it again in a heartbeat. Oh, wait, I already have.
Jason is an associate editor at Orbitz, a social media marketing consultant and a freelance cultural reporter for numerous publications. His works has been featured in the Huffington Post, Time Out, Passport, the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Magazine and many others.