Naked scuba divers take the plunge in Edmonton
'They loved it. They said it was the most freeing experience they’ve ever had'
In the words of sea captain Sir Francis Drake: "It is not that life ashore is distasteful to me. But life at sea is better."
Although it's unlikely the famed British navigator ever went deep-sea diving in the buff, his words ring true for a small group of swimmers in Edmonton.
Nude scuba diving lessons are making waves among naturists and novice skinny dippers across the city.
"For four of the guys there it was not only their first time scuba diving, but their first time with naturism as well," said John Martens, a 29-year-old emergency dispatcher who took part in the inaugural unclad class at Scona Pool last Saturday.
"They loved it. They said it was the most freeing experience they've ever had."
The "nudie swims" are the work of Cottontail Corner, a naturist group Martens founded a few years ago. They normally gather on a quiet beach beside the North Saskatchewan River near Devon, but wanted a new way to let it all hang out during Edmonton's frigid winters.
"Ninety-nine per cent of the time in the world we have to wear clothing," Martens said. "So it's nice to have one little place in Alberta where we can go without."
Ken Holliday, co-owner of Northwest Scuba, says after 30 years as an instructor, teaching the stark-naked lesson was a first.
"I thought I would give it a shot. When they first came out of the change room it was a little different. You're so used to seeing people with clothes on," Holliday said.
"Sometimes the equipment will rub on your shoulders. So I recommended they wear a T-shirt, but none of them did."
Although Holliday "gets too cold" to ever swim in the buff, he's unperturbed by the prospect. He's worked in Spain, Africa and other sunny climates where nude sunbathing is the norm, and he knows many scuba divers who hate wearing a wetsuit.
But swimming au naturel, outside the safety of a concrete pool, comes with its hazards. Holliday says jellyfish can sting in all the wrong places, and dangling body parts can unwittingly act as bait for famished sea creatures.
"Big fish eat little fish. So you have to be cautious."
A second nudie swim is planned for March 12 at Hardisty Fitness and Leisure Centre, and Martens hopes to organize another nude scuba class next year.