More Volleyball au Naturel

John L. Ferri

(Note: the full test of the following article was printed in White Thorn's monthly newsletter; excerpts were also printed in the AANR Bulletin.)
White Thorn Lodge, 1997 Volleyball Superbowl XXVII

Thursday, September 4, 1997

Weather predictions for the weekend were for record lows (40's) in the evenings and somewhere in the 70's during the day, all with the possibilities of rain. We were a little apprehensive since we hadn't tented in quite a while, and as most amateur tenters know, it can be unpleasant if it's cold, and downright miserable if it's cold and wet. But we had recently bought a new tent, a camping table, a queen-size air mattress, camping chairs, and other minor equipment. With the electric blanket and sleeping bags we already had, we were ready. And if it got too cold or wet, we could always sleep in the car.

Even though the official competition didn't begin until Saturday, HelenRose and I decided to leave early Thursday for the 27th Annual Volleyball Superbowl at White Thorn Lodge, near Darlington, PA. We packed our tent and camping equipment, towels, food, and other paraphernalia, and left at 10 A.M.. From Towanda, PA to White Thorn Lodge (WTL) takes approximately six hours so we arrived around four o'clock. We had no reservations since none are taken. (When we phoned WTL a few weeks earlier, we were told that no one had ever been turned away, and that we would fit somewhere.)

After passing the WTL main gate, it was quite impossible not to notice, on the right side of the road, four paved volleyball courts and, over a small hill, seven grass courts -- most being used. As I wrote earlier, most people were nude and wore clothing only when necessary. I commented to HelenRose, "This is going to be a great weekend." We stopped at the office, paid $25 each plus $5 to park -- for the entire weekend (Thursday through Sunday). The entire visit cost $55 plus meals, which could be purchased at very reasonable prices if you didn't feel like cooking. WTL advertises it as the vacation bargain of the summer -- an understatement in my estimate.

WTL staff found a site for us near the Empire Haven group, whom we had met the previous month. WTL policy is to try to get people near their friends if possible. They said that it's more fun that way. There were tents and campers everywhere, and as the weekend progressed, there were more tents and more campers. The official final count was 1400+ guests, 300 members, and 100 children. Camping equipment ranged from fifth-wheel types with expanding sides to one person tents. We set up our equipment, undressed, prepared dinner, and settled in. The campers nearest us soon showed up, so we introduced ourselves and found that one of them had graduated from our hometown high school in the sixties. We finished dinner, then toured the grounds.

The volleyball courts are near the entrance of the 100 acre site. Beyond the entrance is: a large club house used for dances and other group activities, a heated pool, a sauna, a hot tub, a recreation room, a bocci court, a food court, and a large fire ring for evening bonfires. There were two bath houses, upper and lower. Each had men's and women's toilet facilities plus four or five outdoor showers. To handle the larger than normal crowds, portable toilets were located within seconds of any location.

Back at the camp site, we were introduced to Empire Haven members whom we hadn't met before: Tom, Helen, Doug, Scott, Gina, Pat, Linda, Scottie, Lucy, Joe, and a few others. We talked for a while, then at 9:00 P.M., went to a DJed dance at the club house. By this time, the temperature had dropped enough so that most people were clothed, but not all. The heated pool, hot tub, and lighted volleyball courts were still popular places. After a short while we returned to our tent to turn in. It was quite warm under the electric blanket, and quite cold for body parts not under it, but we survived the night -- although we were a little nervous when all power in our area went off for about fifteen minutes. In the morning, there were reports of frost on the windows of several cars. Fortunately, temperatures over the next few days were much "kinder and gentler" to the bare skin.

Friday, September 5, 1997

It wasn't until about nine A.M. that HelenRose and I got brave enough to jump from the electric blanket to out sweats. We have always slept nude and weren't about to change at a nudist camp, no matter what the temperature. After breakfast, I headed for the outdoor showers in the upper bath house because the limited number of indoor showers were all in use. While in the warm stream of the shower, I finally came to realize that I would eventually have to venture into the 50 degree air. I braced myself, turned off the water, and raced for my towel. Now 50 degrees doesn't sound that cold, but 50 degrees and wet with a slight breeze is about 40 degrees colder than I prefer. Then I remembered the sauna. For the rest of the weekend, whenever I showered outside at the upper bathhouse, I ended up in the sauna. If the outside temperature was cold, the showers weren't crowded, but the sauna was. If the outside temperature was warm, the showers were crowded, but the sauna wasn't. So no matter what the temperature, I had company.

Afterward, HelenRose and I headed for the grass volleyball courts where most of the novice levels played. Men and women in any combination could form a novice or a novice-plus team. All the courts were in use by teams either playing practice games or scouting for players. The days were sunny and warm, and almost everyone wore the traditional outfit for playing nude volleyball.

Formal competition hadn't started yet, but the winners on any given court played any team that issued a challenge to that court. After two wins in a row, a team had to give up the court, which allowed everyone some court time. I played several games with the Empire Haven crew to fill in for a few of their players that weren't expected to arrive until later in the evening. HelenRose cheered from the sidelines. She's not interested in playing, but she certainly likes to watch nude volleyball.

After watching for a while, HelenRose and I strolled up to watch the games at the four hard-top courts. Here, B, B+, and AA teams played. These were either strictly men's or women's teams. I'm no expert at volleyball, but the AA play was difficult to distinguish from Olympic quality -- way out of my league. Here, most teams were already formed and consisted of players that competed together year round. I watched for a while, particularly the women's teams, then we headed for the showers.

Usually, a shower consists of removing and storing your soiled clothing, showering, drying, and dressing in clean clothing, all while in private and trying to avoid dragging the clean clothing on the floor. Showering at a nudist resort is easier than selecting a wardrobe for a nudist resort. We already had towels, and we were nude. We simply showered and dried on the lawn in the sun.

We were near the sauna, so I asked HelenRose if she wanted to try it. She said she would go in but probably wouldn't stay long because she doesn't like confined areas and doesn't like to be hot. I entered the sauna about 15 seconds before she did and commented to three or four people already inside that we should start a pool on how long it would take my wife to start complaining. Before anyone could speak, HelenRose came in, and in exactly one second, said "Oh my God" and left. I think she set a new record.

Between 1:00 and 2:00, tickets are sold for dinner. There were three options for the single-dinner menu -- you can eat at 5:00, 6:00, or 7:00. Prices were $7 each. The no-choice menu is done to avoid delays getting everyone served. Friday's dinner was beef tips, and our tickets were for 6:00. The system works very well if you happen to like that evening's dinner, which includes salad, dessert, and a drink. Service is very fast and the food was excellent.

Seating for dinner is outdoors and near the hard-top courts which were still being used for men's and women's teams, so you had to pay attention while you ate because the dinners were served hot. We approached a table occupied by another couple, introduced ourselves, and asked if the available seats were taken. They said no and asked us to join them. Lenny was a veteran nudist, while his companion, Beth, was not. This was only her second time at a nudist gathering and she commented that this event was much larger than her previous time. We told her that this was only our third nudist experience, so we had a few things in common to talk about for the remainder of dinner.

Lenny invited us to visit his campsite area sometime during the weekend because the group they were with had 135 pounds of very spicy chili for the sampling. We said that we would try, but never made it. Lenny and Beth -- we'll be there next year, and if the offer is still good, we'll be ready for a taste.

At 7:30 P.M., anyone not already on a team, or captains needing additional players, were invited to meet on court four. Here, short games were played to gauge skill, then captains picked players as needed. Also, anyone could be a captain and form their own team if they wanted, so anyone who wanted to play got to play. This resulted in the formation of a record 97 teams for the XXVII Superbowl.

The team that I joined consisted of Stan (late 50's), Doug (mid 50's), Adam (16), Adam's father (mid 40's), Liz (13), and me (49). Doug was the captain and selected the team name "Forest Hills Pick-Up-Sticks". Because schedules wouldn't be posted until morning, and because play started at 8:00 A.M., we decided to meet at Doug's campsite at 7:30 A.M., just in case we had an early game.

Now that I was on a team, HelenRose and I went back to out campsite. We met with the Empire Haven group and had wine, Jell-O shots, champagne, other drinks, snacks, and conversation. We all went to the dance at the club house, but stayed for only about an hour because we thought that the band was extremely loud -- good but loud. It's possible that we're showing our age but I prefer to think of it as the desire not to screw up our hearing. Next year, I'm bringing ear plugs. Since I (we) had to be up by 7:00 A.M. at the latest, we went back to the campsite and to bed.

Saturday, September 6, 1997

At 7:00 A.M., the PA speakers blared, "Good morning volleyball lovers. All captains please report to the club house." This was repeated several times. We got up, had a quick cup of coffee, and watched the many casualties of the previous evening's parties. I swear I heard more than once, "I can't see," and "Oh, my head." It may have been me that said it; I'm not sure. If you've never awakened naked with a hangover with about 1000 other naked hungover people, then you just haven't lived.

As arranged, I met Doug and Stan, who also looked like they were among the casualties of the parties. We found the other team members and went to the club house. Doug registered the team and we were scheduled to play in the afternoon. I went back to our campsite, had a leisurely breakfast with HelenRose, then headed for the showers and sauna.

Because most of the people were now at the courts, this was probably a good time for a shower. It was still a little cool outside, so I checked the indoor shower next to the sauna. A women was showering; a man and women were next in line. I went to the outdoor showers and joined a women already there and commented that the wait for the indoor shower was probably only about 10 minutes. She said that she used the outdoor showers whenever she could and wished she had one at home that she could use. If I only had neighbors like that.

Since this was the first day of official competition, I wanted to see what the other teams looked like. I wanted to see how they played, too. The novice group had a wide range of skill, while the novice-plus teams were more evenly paired. There were very few players who had never played the game before. Today's games were for the seeding of Sunday's competition of 3 games per match, single elimination. The referees consistently called even the slightest rule violations. Carries, throws, net violations, and lifts were called quickly and authoritatively. Line judges were at the corners of every court. USVBA rules were used with one addition -- weather permitting, players must play nude.

We watched the novice groups for about two hours, then went to see the non-novices play. After watching for a short while, I noticed that an aerobics class was being held in the club house. This was an excellent opportunity to warm up prior to playing, plus an excellent opportunity to be able to say that I had participated in nude aerobics.

I tried aerobics once before and the experience gave me a much higher respect for this type of exercise. Fortunately, this session seemed to be geared to non-impact and warm-up exercises, which was exactly what I wanted. I joined the group of men and women, and followed the instructor and the music to stretches, lunges, jumps, and other movements that have now put nude aerobics just under nude volleyball as my favorite form of exercise.

On the way back to our campsite for lunch, we passed a fire-break area that separated two large sections of campers by about fifty feet, and was the width of the camping area, maybe 300 feet. At one end of this lane was parked a large fire truck, pumper style. The firemen with the truck seemed very happy with their assignment. A cheer from a crowd of campers got our attention so we stayed for a while to see what was happening.

From the other end of the lane, a group of men were launching water balloons with an oversized slingshot at the firemen. After a few hits and a few misses, we heard the fire truck engine start up, then a cranking noise. A large nozzle rose from the top of the truck, and was pointed at the men with the water balloons. Water, probably hundreds of gallons, shot from the nozzle, arced gracefully across the sky, and drowned the ballooners. They surrendered, at least for now. The "attacks" and "drownings" occurred several times over the weekend.

Our first game as Forest Hills "Pick-Up-Sticks" was scheduled to start in about an hour, so the team members were nearby watching various games being played on the grass courts. Liz joined HelenRose and I as we watched. Liz was a little nervous because, even though she is a member of WTL and has been a nudist since birth, this was the first Superbowl that she was about to play in. This was also my first Superbowl and I hadn't hit a volleyball all day, so I borrowed one from the Empire Haven team, and Liz and I bumped it around for about a half hour.

It was game time, and our team assembled. Play started and it wasn't pretty, but we did score a few points here and there. Everyone, our opponents included, had some good plays and some real screw-ups -- but then that's novice volleyball. We played five games and lost them all -- but we had fun and we would still get to play at least two more games tomorrow.

Around 3:00, the competition was interrupted when the courts were cleared. Everyone was pointing up at three skydivers, now tiny specs against the partly overcast sky. A cloud had just moved in front of the sun and made looking up at the skydivers comfortable. The skydivers are members of WTL and their descent is an annual feature of the Superbowl. Two of the three were nude; all made perfect landings. The games resumed and we watched a few more matches.

As we headed for the showers again (they're just so convenient when you're already nude), we passed WTL staff maneuvering a large trailer loaded with thousands of ears of fresh-picked corn. (I didn't actually count them, but how I came to this conclusion will soon be apparent.) An announcement notified everyone that corn from the corn-roast would be ready at 4:00, a half-hour from now.

By the time we had showered, a line of several hundred people extended from the roasting (steaming) area to the club house. We walked back to our campsite to pick up some money for the corn, figuring that the line would be shorter when we returned. It wasn't. We walked to the end and were surprised that in less than five minutes, we were picking out our corn -- as much as you wanted, and at no charge. Melted butter and salt were available as soon as you husked you selections. People everywhere were eating corn dripping in butter (the corn, not the people). There were additional announcements to return for more corn if you wanted it.

Dinner was still about an hour away, so HelenRose and I strolled around the resort to see how many more campers had arrived and to see the various camping areas. As we walked, we noted the variety of state license plates on vehicles. The official account from WTL is:

Our opening ceremonies Friday night had 14 states represented, including organized teams from California and Texas. Others from distant places attended, too, but joined teams after arriving at our club. Also, new this year, a team and group calling themselves the Cybernudes, all met on the Internet and stayed and played together as a group at their very first Volleyball Superbowl.
Our tour ended back near the clubhouse, where we waited in line for dinner. While there, a gryocopter passed overhead, piloted by someone gawking at all the "naked people" . He passed the area several times, each pass lower than the previous. His last pass seemed to be just above some of the taller trees nearby. Here, even though flying low, was the height of stupidity. He could have paid only $25 to get a really close view for four days, yet for a few fleeting glimpses from afar chose to rent or purchase and maintain the craft. In addition, he also chose to risk being fined for violating minimum ceiling requirements while in a populated area.

After dinner, we met with the Empire Haven group for wine, beer, and other refreshments, and some music to warm up for the 9:00 dance. As we danced to "Hot Hot Hot" in the limited spaces between tents, cars, and campers someone yelled, "CONGA LINE." Someone else picked up the portable CD player, set "Hot Hot Hot" on repeat-play, and led the group on a conga tour through what seemed like most of the hundred-acre site. After volleyball and aerobics, it's conga for me.

Sunday, September 7, 1997

Sunday morning was a repeat of Saturday morning. Announcements were made over the PA system, and "millions" of volleyball players and spectators who partied late into the previous night rushed the showers and restrooms, with a significant portion equivocally swearing never again to do whatever it was they did the previous evening.

Schedules for the day were posted at the clubhouse. Our team played at 8:00 and we promptly lost our first two games, eliminating us from the tournament. It was disappointing but not unexpected. The team members were all fine players, but our short history together never allowed us to coordinate our efforts. Yes, I know -- excuses, excuses. But on the positive side, just think of the room for improvement.

After breakfast, HelenRose and I cheered for the two Empire Haven teams that were still in the competition. We also watched several more games from the "A" and "AA" groups. Then, after not having been dressed since arriving on Thursday, we sadly realized that it was now time to get dressed and pack for the trip home, not necessarily in that order.

We did it the right way and didn't dress until the last possible moment. We were sweaty and hot after packing, and looked forward to one last outdoor shower. Just then, someone from the Empire Haven Group passed by and yelled, "GROUP SHOWER." Who were we to argue, so we joined them. Volleyball, aerobics, and conga are great ways to exercise, but as a means of socializing, I just don't see how the group shower can be improved.

The car was packed, and good-byes and hugs were shared by all. By this time HelenRose had dressed, but I vowed to hold out until the last possible moment. As we approached the office while heading for the main gate, a woman in her mid twenties jogged in the opposite direction and passed right next to my window. I turned to HelenRose and said, "Is that a send off, or what?" I stopped at the main gate, dressed, and cursed clothing for the entire six hour trip home.

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John L. Ferri

(Background image courtesy of NASA, Pioneer Space Probe Plaque)