Nude in Ocean City -- but hardly lewd!

May 12, 1994|By William P. Pacer

HE was naked!

His bronzed muscular body frightened the Ocean City populace even though he didn't move -- and never set foot in the seashore town.

When surfer Mike Chester died two years ago of cancer, his friends wanted to memorialize him. They commissioned a statue to remember him and honor all surfers who hung 10 at the Maryland resort.

When a photograph of Edmond Shumpert's work in progress arrived in Ocean City, the town elders became stricken by the sight. While Chester was a surfing buff, he was not known to have surfed in the buff. This artistic license stimulated a tizzy of controversy.

Michelangelo had revisionist popes. Edmond Shumpert has Ocean City politicians. While a sculpture of a nude surfer may lack the classical magnitude of a David or a Sistine Chapel ceiling, it nevertheless confronts our wayward view of the nude body. Society confuses nudity with sexuality, beauty with perversion, art with restraint. The moral consciousness of the town fathers dictates that art be suitable for "families."

Naturally, many questioned this attempt at "censorship." I am more puzzled by the claim a nude statue has no place in a family setting. Does this mean brothers and sisters never bathed together? Do Ocean City residents stay away from art museums? Is the Sistine Chapel off-limits to traveling families? Are families unwelcome in the hospital when babies are born?

My wife and I have visited clothing-free beaches since the late 1970s. We used to frequent Assateague in Virginia until officials closed it down. We have three children: a son, David, 7, and two daughters, Kerry, 6, and Lindsay, 3. Our family enjoys visiting various nudist parks and beaches around the nation.

A family is a wholesome entity, people devoted to each other and working together. Nudist families have a lower divorce rate than the non-nudist population. And more families would stay families if we banned uniforms -- forcing wars to be fought nude.

Lois Popp of the Ocean City Downtown Association told a newspaper, "There's no naked surfing allowed in Ocean City."

It may be frowned upon, but nude surfing is not alien. City Councilman Jim Mathias noted, "Other than senior week, spring break, the end of summer, I've never seen anybody surfing naked."

Here is a chance for compromise. Allow the surfer to be nude during senior week, spring break and the end of summer. The rest of the time, make him wear shorts.

There may yet be divine intervention. Mr. Mathias said, "If you want to compare this to Michelangelo's David, I need to hear from the creator . . ."

That's exactly what's needed. The creator created us in his image. If he wanted us to be nude, we would have been born that way.

William P. Pacer writes from Baltimore.

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