The Changing Tides of Surf City
By Kelly Kimball
They call themselves the Orange County Naturists, or NitOC for short. They’re an off-the-beaten-path nudist group in Huntington Beach, and they are fighting fiercely for the preservation of their rights.
At least that’s what Allen Baylis believes. As a local defense attorney by day and President of NitOC by night, Baylis and his community have battled for naturist rights in council meetings, lobbying events, board meetings and conventions up and down the California coast for years. And for his hometown in Huntington Beach, conditions are progressively closing the gap of possibility for their kindred subculture, one public ordinance at a time.
Their latest fight is against an ordinance known as AR-704, which directly prohibits nudity at private city recreation facility events, namely those that are held at the Huntington Beach Municipal Pool. Baylis and his cohorts have fought this battle in city council meetings before, only this time, the fight has come down to whether or not their gatherings can exist in the city at all.
“Apparently, the city manager said that our group needed to be ‘protected from themselves,’ and that really offends me,” said Baylis. “It’s a very paternalistic attitude, and it has no place in government. They’re implying that something nefarious is going on, that there’s more to our meetings than just a social gathering. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.”
Aside from his career as a simple defense attorney specializing in traffic ticket violations, Baylis is a passionate activist for naturist rights. It’s likely due to the fact that he has lived in Surf City since he was a child — even before his alma mater, Edison High School, was built. His passion for nudism was borne from an old pile of nudist lifestyle magazines that he and his friends stole in junior high from one of their teachers.
“Well, y’know, when you’re a teenager and you find out that someone has a nudist magazine, you have to investigate, of course! My teacher would probably be fired in today’s world with those things,” noted Baylis, chuckling.
That same year, a friend of his and his father used their private pilot’s license and a four-seater Cessna up the coast toward San Onofre State Beach. It was there that Baylis first discovered Trail 6, the once-popular hot spot where public nudity has since been prohibited.
“And that’s when I got into finding groups involved with social nudity. It’s funny. Even as a kid, I actually read the articles in those naturist magazines!”
What was a schoolboy interest in his late teens turned into a lifelong passion for advocacy and a liberated nudist lifestyle. In recent years, he became a Board Member of the Naturist Action Committee, a national organization that advocates for the rights of naturists across the country. In doing so, he has lobbied for naturists in California and Nevada and has attended naturist conventions nationwide.
“It really struck home when it was my city that was trying to control people’s behavior,” said Baylis
In his eyes, the Huntington Beach City Council is a cohort made callous by morals outside of the naturists’ own, and their group is being left behind the times as a result. While a meager four-sentence ordinance excluding a small subculture of individuals isn’t much on the surface, for Baylis, it’s indicative of a larger phenomenon of increased stigma toward nudism.
In early January 2016, Baylis and a close group of members of NitOC protested at a city council meeting against AR-704. There, the seven-member council slouched over a dark maple, U-shaped table and stared non-committedly in the direction of the two occupied podiums taken up by Baylis and his wife Susan. Each was given precisely three minutes to speak. Susan Baylis spoke first in a soft voice:
“I’m the dinner lady in the group, and when we talk to you about the family environment, it’s true. These folks come in, they eat food that I’ve shopped for in Huntington Beach, prepared in Huntington Beach…” she trailed off, advocating the message that their group actively churns money into the city’s local businesses. She continued, this time with a more frustrated tone:
“God said we were made in his image, and there’s no shame in that. Every one of us who goes to these events is heartfelt, and we’re enjoying life in the way that we were meant to be made.”
The meeting trudged on with a similar attitude as other naturists gave their arguments as best they could to a relatively disgruntled and distracted committee of council members. Their group left that evening with disappointment and a pondering self-talk that pitter-pattered throughout the lobby, like a post-exam peanut gallery awaiting their final grades.
The ordinance, unfortunately, ended up passing.
Just a few months shy of NitOC’s founding in 2007, the Huntington Beach Chief of Police at the time, Ken Small, strongly advised city policymakers to create a strict anti-nudity ordinance on public places. This ordinance ended up banning key clothing-optional hubs, from beaches to open-air pools — all because of an incident in the summer of that same year in which an unidentified nude man paraded around his front yard and inside his home with the windows and doors open on multiple occasions. Although he’d been convicted of indecent exposure several times and even faced charges filed by the Orange County district attorney’s office, only an official ordinance would put a halt to the matter completely.
Another long-standing debate Baylis has had with politicians concerned the 2009 ban of public nudity at Trail 6 of Onofre State Beach in California’s central coast.
“It’s very typical that the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” said Baylis, begrudgingly. “So, back in 2009 when this issue came up, the biggest and squeakiest wheel in just about any city on the planet, is the police chief. And if the police chief thinks he needs something, most cities are just happy to give it to him.”
What happened was that their naturist rights somehow disseminated in the wake of seemingly more important ordeals.
“They just blindsided us, saying ‘We don’t like this. We’re not havin’ it,’ and told a good number of lies and excuses as to why they should revoke the long-standing policy.”
Baylis and The Naturist Society tangled into a lawsuit with the California State Parks Department and took home a win in the trial court, which was later reversed on appeal at the state level. After a two-year legal battle, the state began writing tickets to clothing-optional offenders down in San Onofre.
“We’re not done yet,” he assured. “We’re still fighting to get the Parks Department to change its mind. It’s an ongoing battle.”
When thinking about all the things their group has fought for and what he believes take up the cultural strongholds of their community, Baylis ruminated:
“What it really comes down to is: If you grow up in a household where you’re taught that the human body is something to be ashamed of — whether it be for some perceived religious mandate or something else — then it can certainly have an effect on how one perceives the world as an adult. Some people are able to shake that kind of thing off and become free thinkers and critical thinkers, and other people get stuck with these things in their minds and simply stick to what they have always been told.”
Independent thought is provoked in many ways. For some, it’s through travel or schooling, or through adventures. For others, it’s deeply invested in a craft or alternative lifestyle. For Baylis and his naturist troupe, perhaps independence and freedom simply come from one’s willingness to shake off preconceived notions and let go.
“I hear people say all the time, ‘Well, I can never do that. I could never be in a social nude setting.’ But, well, they can! It’s like doing anything else for the first time, you know? There is no real physical danger when being nude with people. It’s all up in your head. That’s all there is.”