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On a recent Friday morning, Jessi Bartoletti arrived at the Sunsport Gardens Nudist Resort here in a T-shirt and shorts. By evening, the 19-year-old had stripped down to a string of purple Mardi Gras beads and was dancing around a bonfire with about 200 young nudists, many of them first-timers.
That's good news to the nudist resort industry, which is desperate for young nudists like Ms. Bartoletti to augment its clientele of graying baby boomers. Membership in the two big nudist umbrella groups has been flat or declining for years, prompting a youth-recruitment effort that includes reverse-strip-poker nights, volleyball tournaments, naked 5K road races and music festivals like Nudepalooza and Nudestock.
One new group, Young Nudists and Naturists of America, this month is having a naked dinner party in a loft in New York's financial district to recruit members. "The whole lifestyle will just disappear unless we attract a younger crowd," said Nicky Hoffman, head of the Naturist Society, one of the two big organizations of U.S. nudists. "The problem is, most of these resorts aren't geared to young people. They've become like retirement homes; they've sort of calcified."
"It's not that I have anything against old people," Mr. Whitehead said. "I just don't really want to hang out with them at the pool." In 1929, six men and women in their twenties attended what is believed to have been the first nudist retreat, organized in upstate New York by German immigrant Kurt Barthel. In Mr. Barthel's homeland, nudism had taken root among young people as an expression of physical fitness and harmony with nature. In the U.S., it found controversy. Nudists meeting in private in New York were arrested and charged with indecent exposure. In 1935, a crowd beat up a dozen nudists in northern New Jersey.
Nudist resorts sprang up across the country. There are more than 250 today, plus cruises and other events making up a $440 million business, says the American Association for Nude Recreation. But AANR and Naturist Society membership stopped growing years ago, mainly because many people now in their twenties and thirties don't appear interested in joining. Young people have largely turned their backs on nudist camps, favoring instead public nudist spots like Hippie Hollow in Austin, Texas, Baker Beach in San Francisco or Haulover Beach in Miami, a "clothing optional" stretch of sand at the city's northern edge.