The Van Tan Club claims to be Canada's oldest nudist club, and it's certainly amongst the most picturesque. Nestled on the densely forested lower slopes of Grouse Mountain, the naturists who drive up its winding private road are rewarded with a view of the Burrard Inlet and Greater Vancouver. Despite all its beauty, and its facilities (a wood-burning sauna, shuffleboard, and a pool) the Van Tan has a problem—it's finding it impossible to recruit younger members.
CBC News reports the Van Tan Club is currently in the middle of a recruitment crisis. According to member Daniel Jackson, 51, the club's membership has been declining since its peak in the 70s, when they boasted around 150 members. Now only around 50 or 60 members still attend—and none of them are getting any younger.
Fellow member Linda Kent, 65, told CBC that it would be nice to attract a younger crowd because, well, free manual labour. "We have a few younger members, but not a lot of younger members, and it would be nice to have younger members because we're getting too old to do the physical work. Somebody's gotta do it!" To find out why clothing-optional, manual-labouring young 'uns are in short supply in nudist clubs, Broadly spoke to Felicity Jones, the 27-year-old co-founder of Young Naturists and Nudists America.
Jones tells me that the memberships of national naturist organizations have been decreasing in popularity over the last few decades. Both the American Association for Nude Recreation and The Naturist Society are in decline, although Jones suggests their pricing models may be to blame. A weekend away at a naturist resort can easily set you back $500. Despite this, society and young people in general are becoming more accommodating of public nudity. According to a 2015 study from the Naturist Education Foundation, over a third of Americans had tried social skinny dipping or nude sunbathing (up from 15 percent in 1983), while over a quarter of Americans would consider going nude at a clothing-optional beach (with 43 percent of 18 to 29 year olds willing to try it).
In Jones' view, established naturist clubs are failing to connect with potential nudists. "The big problem in the nudist world today is a lack of marketing savvy. Most nudist clubs' websites look like they haven't been updated since 1997. They aren't using social media and all the online tools that are available today. They don't how to use the Internet in a time when everyone, especially young people, heavily relies on the Internet to find places and things to do."
Jones tells me that some naturist clubs even go out of their way to deter the curious. "I know one club that intentionally doesn't answer emails from potential new visitors, the logic being that if they're serious about visiting, they'll call." Despite the fact that every naturist website you'll ever read professes to be an inclusive, welcoming place, this isn't always the case. "Some clubs will discriminate against people with body or genital jewellery, which has become so common among young people today, and against single men and even sometimes single women."
The effect of this is to deter potential naturists from joining the movement. Often, those interested in nudism will simply get naked in a less official setting, rather than forking out money for expensive membership fees. "Young people generally don't have as much disposable income, so a club needs to be affordable if they're to visit regularly."
Unsurprisingly, most young people aren't exactly thrilled by the prospect of spending their weekends hanging out with those twice, or even thrice their age—no matter how nice they may be. "Sometimes young people show up to a resort and are not as interested when they see everyone is twice their age. Not that they can't make friends with older people, but a 20-something is in such a different stage of life compared to a retiree."
Jones questions whether media-reinforced ideas abut the 'perfect' body might also be to blame. "I think some young people are personally not into the idea because of body image issues. They're too self-conscious about their bodies and have anxiety about others seeing whatever parts they're insecure about. Women especially. They're influenced by the 'perfect body' that shows up everywhere in the media and advertising. But naturists are not models. They come in all shapes and sizes. It's an accepting environment, and no one cares that you have scars or wrinkles or belly fat."
For anyone fed up of their tan lines and wanting to feel the warm caress of the sun on exposed skin, take Jones' advice: "Try it once and see what it's like. You can go to a public nude beach and undress at your own pace. If it's not for you, okay! But you might just love it and never want to put on a swimsuit again."