Nudist Recreation Enjoys Growth Spurt

July 15, 2003 -- -- — Anything you can do, I can do naked — thanks to the fast-growing nudist recreation industry, which is allowing folks to play tennis, Jet Ski, and golf in the raw.

Nude recreation and tourism has grown into a $400 million business, more than doubling in size in the last 10 years, according to travel industry estimates. It now includes several nude cruises, nude flights to Mexico, and clothing-optional condos and luxury resorts in nearly every tourist destination.

"I think Americans are waking up to the peace and serenity that comes with taking off your clothing. For one thing, nobody has a pocket for a cell phone or beeper," says Carolyn Hawkins of the American Association for Nude Recreation, which boasts more than 50,000 members and 260 clubs.

"In a room of naked people, you don't know who's a judge, and who's a secretary. It's really leaving all those distractions that divide people behind."

Sun Bathers Now Nudists

Until 1995, Hawkins' organization was once known as the American Sunbathing Association, but in the last few years nudists have shed the stigma attached to folks who make their privates public.

The AANR even has a government affairs team that lobbies lawmakers for the right to enjoy an allover tan.

If nudism seems a little out of step with these conservative times, it should be noted that the AANR isn't exactly a youth group. About 92 percent of its members are 35 years old or older. Perhaps they're graying baby boomers trying to recapture their free-freaking days at Woodstock.

Not in all cases. "Nudism cuts across party lines," Hawkins says. "We've got plenty of Republicans in our ranks."

Hawkins believes young people tend to be hung up on appearance. Older people are more likely to accept the sagging, flabby imperfections — in themselves and others.

But if nudists tend to be older, it doesn't make them less desirable consumers. Even when they don't have pockets for their wallets, nudists tend to have income to dispose of — and they're not about to spend their free time in rusty trailer parks.

That's why Paradise Lakes, a top clothing-optional hotel near Tampa, Fla., entertains more than 80,000 guests a year. The 72-acre resort includes 340 luxury condominiums, a hotel, five tennis courts, three heated swimming pools, a health spa, two restaurants, and several boutiques.

More women are embracing nudism, too. Though the AANR is still about 60 percent male, the organization's annual conventions are structured more like family reunions, in scenic locations such as California's Anza-Borrego Desert.

Some of the events from a recent convention: nude fire-walking, a stripped-down soapbox derby, a naked coyote-calling contest and a nude piñata party for the kids.

Here's a look at some of recent developments in nudist recreation. Of course, it's not for everybody, but if you get any vacation ideas, don't forget to pack light.

The Bare Facts on Recreation

Airborne Nudity: You can unfasten a whole lot more than your safety belt when you reach a comfortable cruising altitude on Naked Air.

In May, the inaugural flight of the clothing-optional charter service allowed 90 passengers, paying $499 a seat, to shed their skivvies after boarding in Miami for a flight to Cancun, Mexico.

Castaways Travel in Austin, Texas — which booked the service — says that it had no problem filling up the 172-seat Boeing 727, but had to leave extra space for film crews documenting the historic flight.

All passengers received a commemorative towel to document their experience — and prevent their bare bottom from touching the seat. Additional flights are now being planned for Cancun and Jamaica.

The Federal Aviation Administration refused to weigh in on flying nude. "It's not a safety issue," says spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen.

Cabin attendants and crew wore clothing, but didn't serve hot drinks for the safety of their overly exposed passengers.

Controversial Campers: In a June 12 New York Times report on the Youth Leadership Camp in Lutz, Fla., campers complained about having to play strip volleyball. They wanted to play volleyball the regular way — in the nude.

Ever since, the AANR-sponsored camp has been under considerable controversy. Florida Rep. Mark Foley called on Gov. Jeb Bush to investigate the summer program, worrying about the welfare of the children.

But an investigation revealed that the camp has been operating lawfully for more than a decade. Foley has since met with representatives from the camp and asked that it merely review the background-check procedure for its counselors.

No parents have stepped forward to complain, although some campers admit to mosquito bites in the strangest of places. Indeed, skinny-dipping is an honored tradition in many summer camps. The AANR camp merely allows kids 11 to 18 to combine skinny-dipping with all sorts of sports, games and sing-alongs.

A second nudist summer camp for kids opened three years ago in Arizona, with a third and fourth slated to open in Richmond, Va., and Texas.

Classic Car Buffs: Talk about sex drive: At the annual Nude Car Show in Cambridge, Wis., you can expect to see an unusual display of front ends and spare tires. You'll also see more than 50 classic cars.

The Valley View Nudist Recreation Club, which has hosted the event each summer for more than a decade, says a nude car show is just like any other car show. One big exception: Nudists can't sit in the cars.

Bridge of Thighs: You might have a body that could stop traffic. But that doesn't mean you want to cause accidents. In February, Palm Springs opened the world's first "nude bridge" — a $500,000 140-foot-long pedestrian crossing with canvas screens — allowing unclothed vacationers to cross a busy California intersection without being seen by motorists.

The city kicked in $185,000 to rework sidewalks and roads for the project, and held an elaborate ribbon-cutting ceremony, recognizing that clothing-optional resorts plays a part in Palm Springs' ability to attract tourists.

The bridge accommodates guests at the fast-growing Desert Shadows — a Mediterranean-style resort that includes a 33-room hotel, 59 one- and two-bedroom villas, 17 condos, four pools, a gym, putting green, and spa.

The resort was built on land where Errol Flynn and Doris Day once owned hotels. Flynn's property is now the nude tennis court, where players wear Velcro belts around their waist, to hold extra tennis balls.

Birthday Suit Brides: Jamaica's Hedonism III resort in Runaway Bay offers world-class water sports — sailing, Jet Skiing, and surfing — all in the buff.

But the picturesque beaches are also said to be quite romantic, leading some guests to exchange wedding vows with the bride wearing nothing more than suntan lotion.

Music legend Englebert Humperdinck even sent good wishes and advice to grooms at a multiple wedding in February: "Don't go in cold water before the ceremony."

Follow the Bouncing Ball: The competitive spirit runs high at the Lake Como Nudist Resort's tennis and volleyball tournaments in Florida. But you can't wear anything, except sneakers.

In May, the Tampa-area resort began broadcasting the nude competition over the Internet. "We wanted to step out of the box and show that we are accepting of all body types," says resort spokeswoman Elf Anderson. "This was nothing more than good, clean fun."

Lake Como features six volleyball courts, and more than 300 people competed in the last tournament. But the resort still has a long way to go if it is to displace Pennsylvania's "Super Bowl" of nude volleyball — which boasts more than 700 competitors.

Nautical Nudists: Nude tourists have been hitting the high seas for more than 13 years, thanks to travel agency Bare Necessities in Texas, which works with Carnival Cruise Lines to offer nude travel to exotic locals including Tahiti, the Greek islands and the Caribbean for 2,000 guests each year.

The voyages are clothing-optional for the crew. Everyone is clothed in the dining room and when the ship docks.

Richard Hatch, the winner of TV's first Survivor, whom David Letterman dubbed "the fat naked guy" for his penchant for regularly shedding his clothes on the reality show, is said to have sailed to Europe in the buff.

The cruise industry is weathering through some tough times. But Bare Necessities is currently arranging its largest nude cruise yet, booking an eight-day voyage on the Carnival Explorer for 2,500 guests in 2005. The travel agency's motto: "We want to see you nude — We really do."

Full-Frontal Ironing: You may not think ironing qualifies as a nudist recreation. However, Niagara Spray Starch reported last month that 46 percent of men and 34 percent of women have ironed in the nude.

Full-frontal ironing might be a practice born of necessity rather than adventurism. If you've ever been caught without a pressed shirt, just remember, freshly ironed clothing can be very, very hot.

People who get burned tend to learn little lessons as they get older. The telephone survey of more than 1,000 people suggests that most exposed ironers are young — nearly 47 percent are under 44 years old. Only 22 percent of seniors iron in the buff.

Buck Wolf is entertainment producerat The Wolf Files ispublished Tuesdays. If you want to receive weekly notice whena new column is published, join the e-maillist.