R I O D E J A N E I R O, Brazil, Nov. 13, 2003 -- Ironically in a country known for skimpy bikinis that reveal more than theycover, Rio de Janeiro has balked for the past nine years at allowing a nude beach, but that is now changing.
The city is "as famous for its natural beauty as it is forCarnival reveling with televised samba parades and belles intheir Olympic nakedness," said one Brazilian judge.
And with these words last month, he dismissed a 1994 ban onnudism at a beach called Abrico, ruling that arguments ofimmorality did not apply to well-behaved naked sunbathers onthe outskirts of merry Rio.
On a recent sunny weekend after the lifting of a nine-yearban, dozens of nudists filled Abrico beach, the city's onlynude beach which sits on a secluded strip of sand between themountains and next to surfers' favorite spot of Grumari.
One man stands on a rock, talking on a mobile phone thatmakes his ear the only covered part of his body. Others playvolleyball or jump in the waves.
Some swimsuit-clad bathers walk rather sheepishly along theshore, past a sign saying: "Beyond this point you may findnaked people."
Victorious organizers don't mind the onlookers.
"The curious today are followers tomorrow," said PedroRibeiro, president of the Abrico Naturist Association.
Abrico is one of very few nudist beaches in an urban areain Brazil and the only one in the international tourist meccathat is Rio.
The drive to life the ban was motivated in part by nudists'arguments that foreign tourists, especially from Europe, willflock to Rio if they have a place where they can bare all.
"We just reopened and we already have foreigners fromGermany, Spain and the United States, and people are asking forthe address," Ribeiro said.
Nudist Numbers Growing
Brazil, with its nearly 5,000 miles of mostlybeautiful sandy coast has only about 20 nudist beaches orcolonies, while in Spain alone there are 400, according tocourt documents. Compared to an estimated 5 million nudists inFrance, a much smaller nation, Brazil's 500,000 followers ofnudism pale, Brazilian nudist groups said.
But Elias Alves Pereira, president of Brazil's NationalFederation of Naturists, says that the number of nudists hasdoubled in the past three years and is convinced that thegrowth will continue.
Brazil is also way ahead of fellow Latin American nationsArgentina and Mexico, with less than 10,000 nudists each.
Although Latin American countries are viewed as puritanicalin many ways, Rio's nudists say the problem they had beenfighting all those years was not public opinion or thecountry's habits, but just one person.
Abrico beach was first officially opened to nudists in 1994under the mayor who is at the city's helm again now. But lawyerJorge de Oliveira Beja filed a court challenge allegingBrazilian culture was not accustomed to "immoral" nudism inpublic places and he won an injunction closing the beach.
Despite the recent lifting of the ban, a cloud ofuncertainty still hangs over otherwise sunny Abrico. Ribeirosaid Beja would likely challenge the ruling in a higher court.
Despite Beja's objections, nudists insist Abrico willremain a wholesome spot. "The beach is not for those who arelooking to get sexually aroused, although it may happen … Insuch cases people are supposed to get dressed or go for asplash to calm down, or members of the association ask them todo so or to leave," Ribeiro said.
Organizers sometimes have to talk sense into the curiouswhen they go too far in staring at nude bathers.
"As for love games, a wee kiss or a hug is OK, but we tryto restrain such things from going further as without clothesthere is so little left to the real thing," Ribeiro added.
To the international philosophy of nudism that consists inunity between naked body and nature, Brazilian nudists addlocal flavor, arguing that native Indians met the arrivingPortuguese in the nude 500 years ago.
Another pro-nudism argument in poverty-stricken Brazil isthat nakedness strips people of their social differences.
"If you are nude, you start asking questions like 'Whydon't I have the same right for good education if I'm equal tothat other nude guy?' " said Ricardo Bezerra, who wore onlysunglasses, a yellow cap and golden neck chain.