There are probably as many reasons for going to Wreck Beach as there are grains of sand on the bit of secluded coast beneath UBC’s Museum of Anthropology–or at least as there are vendors peddling everything from Popsicles to pot cookies. But for Carellin Brooks, who has just published a history of the beach with the simple title Wreck Beach(Transmontanus/New Star Books, $19), there’s only one that counts: freedom.
”I went out in the water and had this real epiphany,” Brooks says over dim sum, about her first time at Wreck, 20 years ago. “It was like going to church for the first time for someone, the first time they feel the presence of God–that’s what I felt. I got into the water and I just started floating, and was floating on my back looking up at the sky and I was like, ‘This is as free as I’m ever going to get.’”
In case you’ve never been, Wreck Beach makes it clear that the area is not completely free. There are the rules enforced (to varying degrees) by the campus RCMP; and then there are the rules of the Wreck Beach Preservation Society, the self-appointed guardians headed by Wreck doyenne Judy Williams.
In the book, Brooks quizzes Williams about the likely fate of the often-threatened beach. “There are three things that’s going to kill the beach,” Williams is quoted as saying. “Gay sex. Drugs. And drinking. These things happen everywhere, but because we’re a nudist beach they’re a big deal.”
Ah, sex. Brooks agrees with Williams, but says that holding Wreck Beach to a higher standard is ridiculous: “It’s almost as if you want nudism to be untainted. And in order for it to be untainted, you have to say, ‘No, no, no. Nobody’s thinking about sex when they’re nudists.’ It’s an untenable situation.”
Wreck Beach details other dangers, such as UBC’s thirst for adjacent condo development and our insistence on smoothing out the wild places. “You sort of kill it to save it,” Brooks argues. “It’s like chemotherapy, right? ‘We’re going to bring you to the brink, but the beach will still be there–under the rubble.’”
However, Brooks says the real threat to Wreck Beach is a simple pair of shorts: “The thing that the regulars say is bad about the beach is people who come down there wearing bathing suits.…You’ll get skimboarders and they’ll say, ‘Well, I have to wear shorts, because if I don’t wear shorts, I’ll get sand in my balls.’ And that’s quite possibly true, but do they have to wear shorts the rest of the time on the beach? Well, no, they don’t. But I think the regulars feel that they’re the last line of defence against it becoming like any other beach, and that’s how that happens–in their eyes.”
Brooks dreams of recognition by UBC, by the province, and by users that the place needs protection–from both developers and would-be neuterers. “In my little dream world, Wreck Beach is a place that is exempt from all the regular rules,” she says, “while at the same time having a number of very specific rules. I don’t want it to be a clothing-optional beach; I want it to be a nude-only beach. I want people to be frisked for cameras when they arrive. It’s idiosyncratic, but I want you to be able to get whatever you want to drink there and whatever you want to smoke there and whatever, and they can ban the boats while they’re at it. Ban the boats, ban the Jet Skis. That’s my world.”