Rev Adam Sapple waves at me from across the sand dunes. "We’re over here mate!" he shouts, his Australian accent strangely at odds with this quiet Welsh beach. As I round the corner I see Adam and his team preparing for a days witness. He is wearing a traditional dog collar, pair of sports sandals and nothing else. Welcome to ‘Naturists Unashamedly Doing Evangelism and Surfing’ (NUDES) - the UK’s first naturist beach mission.
NUDES started their work in the area two years ago when Adam moved from his native Sydney to Wales after meeting NUDES co-founder Eve Ennsong at a clothes-free worship weekend in Norway. They discovered they both came from a background of surfing and Adam’s tales of his ‘Naked Surfers for Peace’ crusade down-under reminded her of a similar group she had contact with in her native Newquay. They decided that they absolutely had to take it to the next level and start a beach mission that combined their love of clothes-free watersports with their passion for spreading good news.
Finding the perfect location for this involved a summer travelling the UK’s surf spots and nudist beaches in a battered VW camper. "Obviously it was going to be a compromise", says Adam whose sun-bleached hair and deep tan is still more Bondi Beach than Barmouth, "We needed an officially sanctioned clothes free bathing area and some decent waves. Eventually we arrived here and found it to be perfect - it‘s paradise to us." ‘Here’ is Wyndup Beach in Cardigan Bay, Wales.
Since then the liberated duo have recruited people of a similar mind to help with the weekend beach mission. A typical Saturday in the summer months will see them set up in the centre of the naturist area with an array of irreverent banners such as ‘bare your bum and save your soul’ and ‘shed your clothes and sins’. Unfortunately the last ‘s’ of that sentence has peeled off the banner and as we chat is causing some inappropriate interest from a group of tourists. "Never mind," grins Adam, "it’s another great witness opportunity."
"Nakedness is crucial to what we’re about,’" explains Eve as she wedges a boogie-board into the sand as a makeshift pulpit, "once people get beyond the pretence of fashion and image they find that can be totally open with each other. It’s led to some revealing conversations." She’s also quick to point out that NUDES isn’t just about preaching and converts: "We’re very much part of the local naturist community. Our barbeques are a highlight of the week for many bathers down here, not just those involved with the mission." I later hear talk of an unfortunate incident at a previous barbeque although the naturist involved has returned to Wyndup and the beach mission after only needing minor medical treatment.
The NUDES team are largely in their 30s and 40s, many coming from a surfing or naturist background for whom church activities were something of a guilty secret. Here they gather unashamed under the group’s logo - a surfer with a halo. One recent convert breaks the pattern though - Sir Pentonville-Hastings is a retired General who caught the nudist bug whilst serving with the Highland Regiment in Borneo. He arrives just as Adam suggests the surf is high enough to start the days sport. Some of the team help with the large box the retired General is carrying - full of home grown fruit from his estate. The local newspaper’s lead story today is that the Ministry of Agriculture have warned locals to not eat any local produce after a potentially dangerous chemical cloud passed over the region last week. But ‘Sir Pent’, as he’s affectionately referred to, is having none of it and encourages Eve to hand round the delicious looking fruit.
Meanwhile Adam is running headlong into some impressive waves singing hymns at the top of his voice. As I discard my t-shirt and shorts to join in the collecting of driftwood for ‘the barbie’ I reflect that perhaps this is pretty close to paradise after all.