The change in attitude has had a mixed effect. The American Sunbathing Association, by far the biggest nudist organization, says that nudism is growing by 10% a year but admits that the growth is unstable, with many people joining out of curiosity and then quitting when that curiosity is satisfied. Nor was business stimulated by the ASA's approach to public relations which, on occasion, seemed borrowed from those other sun worshipers, the Hopis, who have been known to smash the cameras of tourists photographing tribal sun dances.
The ASA has had a recent change of heart and now speaks grandly of competing for "the recreation dollar." It has taken to distributing booklets that breezily seek to allay many fears about nudism ("perhaps you have a surgical scar...") and has begun running "Dare to go Bare" ads in magazines. As part of this same campaign the organization quit its headquarters in Mays Landing, N.J. and moved to Orlando, Fla., a city frankly selected because it was to be the home of Disney World.
"We knew that Disney World would be drawing 10 million people a year," explains Ralph Catino, the ASA's amiable administrative assistant. "We hoped that a lot of them would stop by our offices and get interested in nudism." The idea that nudism and Walt Disney might appeal to the same audience is not all that farfetched. Nudists tend to be middle-aged and Middle-American people who place a premium on wholesomeness, family and fresh air.
But Orlando has been a disappointment. Although Catino and his secretaries have remained clothed, their knotty-pined offices, located on a busy street between a driving school and the Florida Chiropractic Association, for a time were subjected to numerous "inspections" by police, fire and health officials. The harassment suggests that acceptance is still to be won in full in central Florida. As for the expected flood of tourists, local billboard companies refuse to carry ASA ads, and few even know the ASA is there. Catino, reflecting on the move to Orlando, says with brave humor, "We overlooked the fact that Disney made his money by putting pants on Mickey Mouse."
The ASA also has faced opposition within its own ranks. Some members regard the recent promotional campaign as too little and too late. The detractors include Olive Dell Owner Reg Manning, who last year withdrew from the ASA and helped found the rival United Leisure Foundation. The growing ULF, with 34 clubs (vs. the ASA's 130), offers group health insurance, tours to the West Indies and a monthly newspaper Bare in Mind. Puns on that order are usual in nudism. There is a Florida club called Bareskin Lodge and a road sign at a club in Minnesota reads CAUTION: BARES CROSSING. And bear tattoos on buttocks are not unknown.
But the sense of change at Olive Dell goes beyond the creation of the ULF. "We're trying to get away from the idea that nudism is a cult," explains Hal O'Neill, a former ASA president who has transferred his allegiance to the new group. "That's why we now say 'nudist club' or 'nudist park' instead of 'nudist colony.' We are interested in the broad social aspects of nudism rather than in the physical aspects. We like to think that the absence of clothes makes us friendlier and more open, and that we're not so interested in how much money the next fellow has. We think we communicate better with one another."
But progress at Olive Dell, as in nudism generally, is slow. Manning vows to spruce up his club's facilities, but the place could still pass for a campground. There are a few scattered cabins for those who make their homes at the club, but most members show up only on weekends, pitching tents or staying in campers. Either way, Reg Manning searches for gimmicks that will keep customers interested. It was in such a quest for activities that he founded the Nudist Olympics in 1965. The Games were for adults and drew competitors from nudist clubs throughout the West. The track was laid out and bleachers installed, and some years crowds of 500 turned out to cheer the athletes who competed in events ranging from the triple jump to the "marathon," the latter judiciously mapped out to minimize the chances of runners straying beyond Olive Dell's borders. Then interest declined. By 1970 the number of entries had dwindled to 15, and Manning scrapped the Nudist Olympics, leaving only the children's version over Easter weekend.
But most of the adults who showed up at Olive Dell at Easter time seemed happy just to sunbathe. While the Nudist Olympics took place out of view, large numbers of people, their motionless bodies unadorned by so much as a fig leaf, sprawled at all angles on the terrace in front of Olive Dell's clubhouse. A few yards away was a steamy, glass-enclosed pool, a facility uncluttered by the need for cabanas. There was also a concrete block restaurant known as Cafe Sans Culottes. Inside, some played cent-a-point pinochle. Others ate hamburgers and groped with the dilemma of where to place their napkins. Nobody had to worry about where to stash money. The cafe grants credit, a policy proclaimed by a sign on the wall: ONLY KANGAROOS HAVE POCKETS. YOU DON'T NEED TO BE A KANGAROO.
There were special events scheduled on this particular weekend besides the Olympics: an Easter-egg hunt, an Easter parade (the men cheered and whistled approval while the women modeled outlandish flower-bedecked bonnets) and a religious service. The Rev. LaRue Watson, a retired minister, conducted prayers standing on a hilltop with a commanding view of abrupt canyons for miles around. Mr. Watson, a spindly little octogenarian, wore only a green eyeshade.
Though Olive Dell's clientele no longer seems very athletically inspired, nudism has not altogether lost its old concern with physical culture. For example, nude skiing is popular in the Bavarian Alps, and Godiva-style horseback riding—the people are bareback—is featured at Colorado's Mountain Air Ranch. And everywhere, even at Olive Dell, there is volleyball. This sport originally found favor among nudists because it required no facilities other than a ball and a net strung between trees and because it accommodated players of different levels of skill at the same time. Today nudism is probably second only to the beaches of Southern California in developing fine volleyball players. Some have gone on to make All-Service teams, and two nudist clubs, the Running Bares of Burlington, Wis., and Fort Lauderdale's Seminole Health Club, compete fully clothed in AAU matches. The caliber of nudist volleyball is highest in Florida. Many of the state's AAU teams have nudists in their lineups; one competitor is the player-coach of the University of Florida club.