My Top Ten Best Places to Swim in the World

Ocean creatures nibble on your feet as the wide expanse of seawater pulses with waves for bodysurfing. Nude night swimming as a teenager felt like breaking rules that weren’t meant to be followed anyway. Sunday night swims at the Y.M.C.A, when we were still a family of four, with vending machine ice cream followed by the classic show by the formerly virtuous, presently vilified Bill Cosby.

Swimming was always a part of my life. There are soundless, grainy videos of me as a chubby baby splashing and floating in Styrofoam tubes, later, flat chested, sun browned and endlessly chasing waves and catching rides, picking up horseshoe crabs to scare girls. We would spend every summer weekend and our big two-week vacation at the beach. I remember the crispy crust of seawater kissed skin, the smell of barbecuing meat and steaming corn as we ran around the yard. I remember barely being able to sleep out of excitement the night before we would go to the Wildwood, NJ water parks.

They were the days of pre-9/11 America. They were the days before any premature deaths had forced me to reckon with life’s brief candle. They were the days before girls were significant, when we all looked the same. They were the days of wonder and sleepover nights, before jobs and bills. They were the days of best friends, talking on the phone, riding bikes. This is a list of memories, a catalog of subjective experiences, a way to look back while wondering what is still to come.

I read a story in the New York Times by Loudon Wainwright III, an American troubadour, who has similar feelings for the water. He put down his top ten swimming places in the world. I thought it would be fun to do the same.

Here are my top ten most memorable water filled places:

10. Stuttgart Mineral Baths, Germany—I love a good sauna. When I first arrived in Korea, I’d spend hours slipping in and out of the hot and cold baths, hopping between the steam or the cool showers. But my love for saunas started here, in Germany’s Black Forest. I got naked in front of strange Germans, suntanned unabashedly and relished the nude joy of the healing waters. (I should include that Budapest and Sevilla also had amazing bathhouses, but as a bathing suit was required, it just felt more like a fancy pool with beautiful mosaic tiles.)

9. Lagos, Portugal—Although this was the most hungover I’ve ever been as the local bars offer 2 for 1 everything, the crisp seawater was a lifesaver in the morning. I found some crepes and a bucket of ice water and stared at the shimmering Atlantic Ocean. The massive cliffs beside the beaches make for a spectacular backdrop. I remember swimming out with some friends to a natural bridge in the rocks before remembering a scene from a nature documentary where hundreds of manta rays gathered in a place just like that.

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Courtesy: Western Australia Pinterest

8. Karijini National Park, Western Australia—Hidden among the baked red earth of Australia’s outback was a bright blue pool dotted with waterfalls and trees. There was a good hour hike down the rocks to the pool, heating you up for the cool down. There was a 20-meter cliff jump, shady spots to have a drink and some rock climbing inside the waterfalls. We camped in this remote park, and it remains the most stars I’ve ever seen.

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7. Gwangalli Beach, Busan, South Korea—It’s one of the most famous beaches of Korea and insanely crowded for 6 weeks in July and August. But in any season, you can get some Ramen noodles, beers, chips and shoot fireworks into the placid waters. There are no waves here, but the scenic Gwangan Bridge makes a glimmering seascape come alive at night. (Most of the Korea’s east coast has lovely blue water, white sands and nearby 7-11’s. Plus, the island of Jeju is full of amazing waterfalls, beaches and sex museums.)

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6. Mekong River, Laos—Although the Mekong runs from China to Vietnam, my favorite spot was in the Thousand Islands of Don Det. It’s not easy to get to, as you must ride a shaky diesel-powered longboat with a draft of a few inches to the water. Animals run wild, people are friendly and there is a small swimming spot at the end of the island. It was amazing to walk out a few feet and feel the current begin to take you downstream. A few more feet and you’d need to paddle hard to get back in. (In Kratie, Cambodia, I found a cool spot with thatched huts on pylons where the locals drank and cooled off.)

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5. Otres Beach, Cambodia—This is my ideal paradise beach. It’s quiet, chill, beautifully set on the Gulf of Thailand with a few beachside bars and pubs pumping quiet house music. There are French expats who’ve opened some decent restaurants complete with a boule lawn. Every day, the local women sold me fresh mango, watermelon and a back and foot rub for 10$. I also did a great scuba dive here. I was the only one who signed up, so I got to solo dive with the instructor. Sitting under a thatch umbrella, mangoes, cold beer, burgers and a Kindle. (There are Happy Pizza restaurants and tons of bars in nearby Sihanoukville, the backpacker party town.)

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4. Trieste, Italy—This little enclave of an Italian city with an Austrian heritage has a small sidewalk with access to the Adriatic Sea, called the Barcola. If you remember to bring a cushioned mat and towel, relaxing on the cement will be a breeze. The sea is beautiful here, flat and blue out to the horizon with tree covered mountains behind. (Nearby Croatian beaches are similarly wonderful.)

3. Barton Springs, Austin, Texas—A spring fed pool in South Austin, with lax clothing requirements, few personal restrictions, naturally cold water and a diving board. The only negative might be that it is set upon a grassy hill, which just isn’t as nice as sand. (If you catch the right day, McKinney Falls can be spectacular. But a real gem is down in Wimberley at the Blue Hole or chilling near the Blanco River.)

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2. Phuket, Thailand—It was near the end of a four-month journey in SE Asia, and our last day in Thailand. Jordyn and I wanted to swim. We could see heavy, dark clouds shooting lightning in the distance. The rain was falling, the waves were high and we jumped right in. Walking back, people were covered in rain gear, umbrellas and galoshes, we wore only bathing suits and sandals. (Phuket is nice, but the islands like Ko Lanta, or Ko Tao are much more stunning.)

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1. Avalon, NJ—It’s not the clearest, cleanest or nicest water. It’s not always the most peaceful environment. It’s not the most reliably wonderful weather. And although things are changing there, as it’s become a playground for elites with multi-million dollar houses, and there are sound ordinances where police will shut you down for singing after midnight, and extreme weather pushes the storm surges ever closer to the doorstep, and the restaurants are overpriced, and the bars full of college meatheads, khaki shorts and high heels…well, damn, maybe it’s just our little house there. The little cinderblock paradise on the bay, where so many memories were made, remains my favorite place to swim in the world.

 

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What About Freeing the Nipple?

About a decade ago, I was traveling through Europe. Near the Black Forest of Southern Germany lies Stuttgart, an ultra modern town that was completely renovated after being blown apart during WWII, where I visited my first nude spa. I arrived eager to disrobe and let the proverbial sun shine where it usually don’t shine. The day was a lovely and refreshing respite before the debauchery of the impending Munich Oktoberfest. But the thing I remember most as I was lazing on a lounger, legs happily spread in an uninhibited taint exposing position, was sitting up to grab some water and seeing two wonderfully exquisite people showering together. Their bodies were tan, taut and stimulating in a gentle, benign sort of way. The sun’s line spewed rainbows off their backs in the dissipating shower droplets and I watched struggling to remember to unslacken my jaw. I didn’t look too long as decorum requires glances not gawking. The nudity wasn’t the attraction, but rather the absolute normalcy I felt at that moment. For those two dripping exemplars of the human shape were not all that was visible in my periphery. There were plenty of old people stretching in their wilting glory, hairy men emerging from slow laps in the pool or even my skinny ass prostrate on a sunbed. Nobody cared or was aroused in any visible sort of way by the comprehensive nudity.

Then, a few weeks later, at a large outdoor pool in Budapest, where bathing attire was compulsory, I saw a different tale of flesh meeting eyes. A beautiful woman with superficial splendors was prancing about in a shiny silver bikini along the edge of the pool, dipping toes, tying and re-tying her hair. I, as the other men, watched her saunter as though enchanted by the sylphs of some mystical island. Perhaps communal nudity promotes equality and amicable spirits of just letting others go about their business despite any type of libidinous feelings.

I recount this story because the #freethenipple campaign is gaining momentum. My earliest encounter with America’s nipple hypocrisy was Janet Jackson. First in 1993, with her Rolling Stone cover—breasts being held by disembodied hands—and again in 2004 with her “wardrobe malfunction” at the Super Bowl. I remember thinking, “Why can we see her side boob, but not the nipple?” Now, I was born in the age of incipient sexual desensitization from MTV, Hollywood and Maxim. Nipples on women were only a big deal because I was a teenager and hormonally curious. I was always able to remove my shirt in most outdoor settings and even be photographed thusly without anxiety. My nipples aren’t very interesting. But, 80 years ago, men had to struggle for the right to remove their tops on beaches and at pools. Today, women are fighting to share that deserved right.

Some of the arguments I see in the #freethenipple argument are flawed. The women fighting want to de-sexualize the breast by making the nipple free to be flaunted at their discretion. That is completely legitimate and will probably happen in the next few years at the dismay of many conservatives. The flaw lies in thinking that breasts are not erotic. Girls Gone Wild, that bead heaping Spring Break beast, showed college-aged girls freeing their nipples years before this campaign began. Millions of men shelled out their $19.99 for a glimpse at what women now desire to give away free. Somebody must be interested in female nipples! As a heterosexual man, I can presumably assure every heterosexual woman that their male partner enjoys and is somewhere between marginally to massively aroused by her breasts, of which the nipple resides. From what I can glean from gay entertainment, lesbians are also quite fond of the breast and occupying nipple. My torso around my nipples can be called chest or pecs, prosaic and matter of fact. But, a woman’s area has many affectionate and creative nicknames, according to the love directed to that base of fatty tissue. Perhaps some men identify breasts as “objects” but I’d imagine just as many women classify certain men by their six-packs or biceps. The body is open to objectification. Why is it different to look at Kate Upton and exclaim her as “hot” as it is to say Ryan Gosling is “hot?”

Another argument is that breasts’ only function is to feed children. That cannot be disputed. But, if honest about sexuality, both male and female nipples can be erogenous zones, thereby making the red zone of the chest effectively sexual. This contention about “protecting the innocence of children” can be dodged when the opponents reference the suffering masses of kids “exposed” to exposed nipples. Anyone can explain to a young child what the object in question is meant to do without explaining the secondary uses of nipples as bedroom foreplay or titillation. “Yes, Timmy, that is where Mommy’s milk comes from to feed your little brother. You drank that milk too when you were young… I should also tell you that Daddy likes to squeeze and lick them when Mommy and Daddy are “wrestling” on Sunday mornings. But, I’ll tell you more about that when you’re older.”

Both naked bodies and sexual intercourse are natural parts of life. Yet, one section doesn’t need to be explained to the pre-pubescent punks we call kids.

Another argument I saw was that the women want to eradicate the “shame” people put on the nipple. The shame lies in the viewer, not the displayer. If a woman wants to reveal her beautiful, biologically gifted boobs and put a picture on the Internet, she should be allowed. Chelsea Handler put a great satirical picture on Instagram of her on horseback, imitating that belligerent coxcomb, Vladimir Putin, to prove she has a better body than him. It was quickly taken down and was a seminal moment in the #freethenipple movement for me. I saw that humor was being affected by this concealment of nipples, and that’s when I get angry. Humor is how we fight hypocrisy and idiocy. Censorship is too subjective to be effective.

I’m happy that women are moving in this direction of self-empowerment and demystifying the areola. Although we must admit that biologically and empirically women’s breasts are different than men’s, it’s still very natural and acceptable to be nude. Due to the shameless character of some men, it may take some time getting used to this new uncovered sensation. Nevertheless, it’s progressive, it’s empowering, it’s encouraging rationality and if it’s what women want, then they should have it. Who does it hurt?

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