The story goes that one of UCSC’s most infamous traditions all began with a game of Simon Says.
It was 30 years ago, in the fall of 1989, not long after the devastating Loma Prieta Earthquake. And at UCSC’s Porter Dining Hall, a student playing the role of “Simon” told everyone to take off their shirts, according to an interview that Wayne Hendrickson, a former university community service officer (CSO), gave to the podcast Snap Judgment in 2010. Then, Simon got daring, instructing participants to take their pants off—prompting the manager to kick all players out of the dining hall.
The partially nude students wandered outside and walked around the campus, where police told them to watch out for poison oak, in Hendrickson’s telling. Finding that the strip tease provided for a nice stress relief, some students remarked that they wanted to do it all again someday. Overhearing their conversation, Hendrickson mentioned that some schools had naked runs following the first snowfall of every year. He even suggested that students could start their own tradition, and run during the year’s first Pacific storm. “We were kind of brainstorming,” he told producer Stephanie Foo. Hendrickson said he forgot about it, but the students didn’t. And the next year, the tradition was on.
Websites like ucscfirstrain.com confirm many of the threads in Hedrickson’s story. And in the years since that fateful fall game, scores of mostly naked—some scantily clothed—UCSC students have come together in the Porter College quad to celebrate the first major rain event of the school year and go running. The annual event came to be known as First Rain, or simply the Naked Run.
At some point over the last decade, student organizers drafted First Rain rules to prevent false starts and second guessing about the right weather conditions for the event. The official rules dictate that it can only occur on a school night, and it has to be raining nonstop from 6-10pm. The run begins at the Porter Quad at 10pm. It can end in one of two places. The first is at—or sometimes in—the swimming pool at the school’s east gym, or with a drum circle at Porter College, by the metal “Squiggle” art sculpture, near where it all began.
Marine biology major and veteran first-rainer Timothy Ernst admits that he thought the Naked Run was “total bullshit” at first—something the seniors told the freshman to mess with them. But when he saw the long line of naked bodies start to streak through Cowell College, he stepped out of his dorm room, naked, to join the festivities. Ernst says he’d never before done anything like it.
“I hadn’t gone to any parties and didn’t have many friends,” says Ernst. “It took a little bit to get comfortable and lose my inhibitions, but I fell in line and then started running. … This was the first time I was ever naked with strangers.”
Early in the run, he didn’t know if he would be able to relax. But he says that running with more than 1,000 classmates eventually helped him feel comfortable in his own skin, and at peace in his new home in Santa Cruz. “I was like, ‘I can do this. Anyone can do this. Being naked doesn’t matter,’” Ernst says. The experience also motivated him to hit the gym.
Ernst says that before organizers passed their official rules, overly excited students regularly jumped the gun, sprinting through campus naked at the sight of the first afternoon drizzle. That still happens sometimes. He calls it “the freshman fuck-up.”
“Frosh always get the rules wrong,” he says. “The rules are strict.”
UCSC spokesperson Scott Hernandez-Jason calls First Rain “an unsanctioned event” that happens each year, not unlike the school’s annual 4/20 celebration. “It’s one of those events we—CSOs, law enforcement and the university—prefer would not happen, but it will happen anyways,” he says. “We are here to ensure students stay safe throughout First Rain.”
The focus of the administration isn’t on nudity, but rather on public safety, Hernandez-Jason says. It’s the part about students running in the pouring rain at night that makes officials uneasy, he explains. “We just worry that students students running on the wet ground will get injured,” he says. “All in all though, the runs have generally been fine. It’s something meaningful to the students and alumni, and there’s a certain fondness that has grown for the runs.”
Naked runs and streaking have been part of American college life for decades. Students at UC Berkeley take nude laps through the stacks of Doe and Moffitt libraries each semester during the week leading up to final exams. Ivy Leaguers at Harvard participate in an event known as “Primal Scream”—a proud crowd of naked Ivy Leaguers running through Harvard Yard on the often snowy night before the start of their finals.
Today, most UCSC students are well-prepared for First Rain. When the skies open up, websites and message boards like the UCSC subreddit and the UCSC Facebook Group light up with messages, memes and various “It’s on tonight” proclamations.
Veterans of the race have a few pointers. They say that runners should wear shoes and stress that it’s wrong for onlookers to take pictures.
Psychology major Anastasia Baboulevitch remembers her freshman year First Rain fondly. It started with commotion and screaming in the Porter Quad. “And there was this big gaggle of people gathering, totally naked,” the Porter College student says, smiling. “When I saw them, I was like ‘Shit! These are my friends! I’m not going to be the only clothed person here!’”
Before she came to UCSC, Baboulevitch swore to herself that she would spend her time as a Banana Slug experimenting and trying new things. First Rain seemed like the ultimate experiment.
“I wasn’t especially secure with my body,” she says, “but I felt immediately comfortable being naked with the Porter people. Baring it all was an incredible high. The ultimate adrenaline rush. Music was blasting. People were painting each other’s bodies. There was supposedly an orgy in the showers. I was like, ‘You’re really in college now!’”