Getting Naked at KiwiBurn

Fifteen years strong, KiwiBurn is one of the longest running regional Burningman events in the world. In the heat of New Zealand’s summer, 1600 humans assemble on The Paddock for 6 days of radical expression. Kiwiburn is a participatory event that follows the ten guiding principles of burningman. We – the participants – co-create the music, workshops, performance, games, interaction and outrageous debauchery that define the festival. Everyone’s experience is unique. Here are a few pieces of mine.

Photo by Finn Ryan

Swings, Balls & Tie-Dye

I attended Kiwiburn as part of a theme camp called Swing Fling. Our camp raised a two-story scaffold from which hung rings, silks and hoops to play on. You might hear campers yelling, “show us your dick!” as you tackled the swinging rings. Although it’s not required, nudity at Kiwiburn is often encouraged.

Photo by Amy Potenger

Swing Fling also built The Paddling Pool of Conversation. It’s a bath-tub-ball-pit set underneath a furry smiley face. Each of the 1200 balls has a question written on it – jump into the pit with a stranger and get talking! It wasn’t uncommon to find a few burners passed-out in the pool each morning.

Kiwiburn operates on a gift economy. There is no money exchanged or goods traded – everything is given freely. Our gift to The Paddock was a hundred pairs of tie-dye socks. On the second last day we went camp-to-camp distributing our homemade footwear. Fresh and stylin’ socks five days in were a real hit. As word spread we became swarmed. That night we high-fived our sock-brethren on the dance floor.

Photo by Katie Godber

Slide on my bum!

Unlike Burningman proper, Kiwiburn is set in a lush green environment with water abound. Next to The Paddock a clean, cold river flows along a rocky beach. On one fine day we hiked upstream with our floatys and rode the small rapids back down to the festival. As the river turned, it slowed and fine silt created thick mud. Eyeing what seemed to be a mud party, we wandered over, stripped, and waded in. The mud was extremely fine and smooth. It had been warmed by the sun making it thick and gelatinous. It was a sensational experience. In the pit were a few friends and fifty strangers laying, laughing and lounging about.

Photo by Adam Brakey

A few people lined up side-by-side on their stomachs, bums in the air, coated neck to toe in mud. Someone else jumped on top, sliding across the row of butt-cheeks headfirst. Catching onto the idea, the line grew until twenty or so people were shoulder-to-shoulder and hip-to-hip in a long muddy row. Someone brought out a rope with a waterski handle. I grabbed onto the handle and leapt superman-style onto the bum-line. Soft cheeks cushioned my fall and, as the rope pullers hauled, I sped along the bums at great speed. Reaching the end, I flew off the final bum victorious into the mud. Only at Kiwiburn.

 The Raspberry Beret

Our neighbors “The Raspberry Beret” really knew how to party. They committed to the theme “The Robots are coming” by staging robot battles outside their camp. Dress up in hockey armor, strap bouncy stilts to your legs and wield a short pool noodle armed with a tazer on the end. Fight your (naked) opponent in a ring of jeering spectators to see who could topple the other first.

One evening I walked past The Raspberry Beret and was offered Shots for Shocks. A kindly man with a twinkle in his eye told me I could get tazed and down a shot of patron. “Hell yes!” I said. So as instructed, I got real close to his face while he put a shock collar on the back of my neck. I looked him in the eyes and BZZ!! gave him a good O-face. Had the patron bottle poured right down my throat. A memorable shot of tequila for sure.

Photo by Peter Jennings

The namesake of The Raspberry Beret is a very special experience that I’ve never seen anywhere before. In their geodesic party dome they have a red, velvet reclining chair. With your consent, they will lay you down on this chair, pass you a balloon full of nitrous (laughing gas) and ask you to inhale. When the ‘nanger (as they call it) kicks in, you’ll have your shirt lifted up and six strangers raspberrying your stomach at once. Just picture it. In the full swing of the rave I saw The Raspberry Beret deliver ecstatic rapture again and again.

Horse lube and softies and at the Pirate Olympics

A few days into the burn Camp CHUR hosted The Pirate Olympics, which may as well have been called The Naked Olympics. A series of competitions, each one lewder then the next, pitted volunteers against one another in creative games that invariably involved putting on your birthday suit. My personal favorites were The Boner Competition and Catch The Slave.

Photo by Finn Ryan

The Boner Competition had five volunteers stand up naked and face a loud and encouraging crowd. The objective was simple: get hard. The rules? No touching. Not yourself, not each other, not nobody. The first man sprung takes the cake. But in the face of intense performance anxiety, not a single man could get it up. Just a line of frustrated softies.

Catch The Slave prescribed four lucky burners to be covered head to toe in nothing but horse lube. You know, the stuff you coat your arm with to get deep in…? Anyways, it was about a hundred of us vs the four of them, everybody trying to catch these slippery naked devils as they ran and writhed away. After the chase I ran into one of the “slaves” walking into the river. “I do this every year,” he said, dried up lube flaking off his skin. “They never catch me.”

Confess Your Sins! and Bloody Mary’s

For a few afternoons a small bar with saloon double doors was set up in the middle of the paddock. Wander by and you’d hear a shirtless man wearing 100-dollar-bill-print tights shouting “CONFESS YOUR SINS!” in a booming baritone. If you pushed through the double doors and into the throng of patrons, you’d be rewarded with a cold, spicy bloody mary. But only in exchange for a very public confession.

Hanging at the bar, washing down my sins with a bloody mary, I heard some of the darkest, dirtiest secrets poured out in front of a crowd of strangers. Prepubescent friends group-masturbating, a girl who was banging her boyfriend’s dad and the sexy Spanish construction worker that turned him gay, just to name a few. Sometimes if your first attempt at a confession wasn’t sinful enough the barmaids would make you confess again and again until the crowd approved. After your story, bend over and get a paddling from the priest. Sinner!

The Running of the Hippies

On the night of the Burn, for the first time, everyone at the festival was united. 1600 people formed a wide circle around the effigy. Fire performers danced and the crowd howled. The ten-person build crew carried torches to the base of the ten-meter statue. Horned creatures on stilts paced to and fro, bellowing. The energy was intense.

As the man ignited, the flames licked and leapt up its body. Then, as the burn got underway, a deep and thunderous growl rumbled through the air. It signalled a bright green explosion of fire from the chest and head of the effigy. Pure sorcery. The body writhed in green as hot orange flames attacked the legs. Charred to a skeleton, the effigy eventually collapsed to an erupting crowd.

And then, around its smouldering ruin, something amazing happened. People started getting naked. First a dozen, then fifty, then hundreds. Everyone was running naked laps around and around the fire. It must have been half of the festival, swirling together in celebration. What a show. Then we partied.

Photo by Elliot Cahill – Cahill Films

Photo by Mingus Casey

The Temple Burn, the final night of Kiwiburn, brought closure to six unforgettable days of shared experience. Over the course of the event The Temple was open for anyone to leave behind a thought, a name, a story or a memory – either physically by writing it on the walls or symbolically in quiet reflection. It gave an opportunity for personal release and provided emotional grounding in an otherwise chaotic environment. In contrast to the effigy burn the night before, the temple burn took place in sacred silence. Siting amongst the crowd, feeling the intense emotions caught up in flame, I felt truly blessed to have been apart of such a supportive and loving community.

Photo by Elliot Cahill – Cahill Films