Photo from the 15th annual Wreck Beach Bare Buns run, via.
I may not live in Vancouver anymore, but every time I go back, there are little differences that make returning feel like bizarro world. The latest victim of the west coast weed capitals cultural makeover seems to be Wreck Beach, the hedonistic hippie paradise that has near-legendary status not only within Vancity, but across Canada.
For the uninitiated, Wreck Beach, is a 7km stretch of beach adjoined to the UBC campus that is delicately referrred to as “clothing-optional." If you're okay with seeing all kind of sun-worn wrinkly bits, it's actually good fun, and has come to be known as the anti-thesis to the conservative “No Fun City” label that was slapped on the city long before I was even alive.
At the centre of the hedonistic solar system is the (optional) nudity, around which alcohol, drugs, and illegal bonfires make for long, lazy days, and some wild nights. The good times at Wreck stretch all the way back to the 70s and 80s, when cops decided that walking down 400 stairs to the beach would not be worth the trouble just to bust a bunch of longhairs who wanted to get buck wild and buck naked. Since then, vendors wander the shores advertising homemade weed brownies, alcohol and other illegal substances, making it easy for visitors to put the “trip” in daytrip while watching the totally sweet sunsets.
But recent reports suggest that the No Fun City vibe is determined to harsh Vancouver’s mellow, especially on everyone's favourite nude beach.
Alana Thomson, a 31-year-old who has allegedly been selling homemade alcoholic freezies on the beach, was charged last month with the selling and manufacturing of alcohol without a license, as well as possession of ecstasy and marijuana for the purpose of trafficking. In the wake of this, RCMP has promised to crack down on drugs, alcohol, and general fun this summer.
Wreck Beach has been a hippie oasis in Vancouver for over four decades. Photo via.
I spoke with Drew Grainger, RCMP spokesperson who all but confirmed a future crackdown on Wreck Beach, explaining, rather vaguely, “We’ve had a bit of a staff turnover here at the detachment level, and some of the staff that are here now have a great deal of experience with problems like open air drug and alcohol use. We’re going to try and develop some strategies to build relationships that ensure the safety of all beachgoers that [are] down there.” Drew admitted that this has always been an issue for the RCMP, and that there is a certain level of tolerance.
But with Wreck Beach widely accepted by the public and law enforcement as a place where one could freely get their buzz on, why is it that Alana’s homemade booze freezies pushed the cops to prosecute, over the regulars who push what some would say are more unseemly drugs on Wreck? This may or may not have something to do with the regulars, some of whom don’t have good things to say about Alana and have plenty of influence over what goes on at the beach. In a recent interview with Metro, Alana said that she felt she was singled out because the old timers don’t like her. “They dislike me because I’m not completely nude,” she told Metro. The reason might be a matter of opinion, but it’s pretty clear that the tension between Alana and the regulars is real.
When I reached Judy Williams of the Wreck Beach Preservation Society for a quote on Alana Thomson, all she would say was, “I don’t want to talk about that little bitch anymore.”
Reasons behind Alana’s predicament notwithstanding, everyone who frequents the beach will be waiting to see whether the promised crackdown will play out badly for them this summer when thing pick up.
“I hope [it doesn’t happen],” said Natasha Wahid, an avid Wreck Beacher. “I think Wreck is good at maintaining its own etiquette there, and I think that’s why it stays safe. Actually, I’ve seen beachgoers get way more out of hand at Jericho Beach in [Kitsilano]... There’s not the same kind of respectful etiquette. I, personally, haven’t ever noticed a ton of cops, but I’ll be looking out for them [this summer].”
No beachgoers want their fun squished by the cops, but Judy Williams is doubtful that anything will be different this summer.
“Oh, honey, that’s nothing new,” she said about the crackdown threat. The real threats, she said, are coming from environmental changes that the Preservation Society has been fighting against since 1974. Stormwater control, motorboats spilling oil into the water, and UBC building projects have all threatened the maintenance of the beach in the past, and have all been combated by the Preservation Society. Judy’s attitude and the vague plans outlined by Drew Grainger make it seem very possible that the RCMP is just paying lip-service to a problem they know they’ll never fully control.
The history of Wreck Beach speaks for itself. It’s been an oasis (it literally has a section of beach called “Oasis” where nudity is mandatory) of freedom and liberal social values that has survived so far and has worked its way into the very fibres of what defines Vancouver. Hopefully, the RCMP will not end up ruining Wreck Beach and its legacy in the years to come.