By Les Rootsey
I’ve had a long association with nudist/naturist gatherings/rallies/conventions. From my very first convention back in 1965 – the Australian Sunbathers Association (ASA) rally at Woodlands (sports) and Heritage (swimming races) in Sydney’s southwest. The ASA became the Australian Nudist Federation a few years later and I went on to attend most ANF Conventions from those early years right through to those of more recent years. One thing that highlighted those many conventions was the sporting contests that were keenly contested. I’ve been fortunate enough to be a member of winning volleyball teams, doubles tennis champion, miniten mens’ champ and even table tennis champion over these many years. I mention these honours for the fact that sports were a major component of early ANF Conventions and involved intense and high-level competitors. In fact our champion volleyball team from Woodlands Nudist Club in the early 1970’s went on to win the Sydney A grade open competition (the highest competitive level of volleyball in Australia at the time), and many tennis players at ANF conventions in those early days were regional and state tennis champions.
Until recently, ANF Conventions were held annually and lasted for ten days with intense sports competitions and many social activities to fill those days and nights. Crowds, well in excess of 2000 people, would jam-pack convention venues, with the average age of conventioneers hovering around their early 30’s.
Over the past 20 years, I’ve also attended numerous New Zealand Naturist Federation (NSNF) Rallies and American Association for Nude Recreation (AANR) Conventions and the occasional British Naturism (BN) event.
The NZ rallies have featured a combination of intense sporting competition and social/fun activities, while the AANR Conventions have had a more social and business focus.
Over those two decades numbers at both these gatherings have followed the trend of the ANF Conventions with a gradual decline in attendees. However, those declines have accelerated in more recent years.
The ANF are now holding their conventions every two years, due to fading interest and attendances. The writing is on the wall for ANF Conventions and sadly it doesn’t make good reading!
The NZ Rallies continue to hold better interest, than their ANF equivalent. However, the number of participants is reflected by the choice of venue, with a real North versus South Islandrivalry a determining factor in the success in numbers attending. However, the NZ rallies still involve intense sporting competition plus real fun activities for those ‘not-so-sporting’ types.
Further across the ‘Bigger Ditch’ AANR Conventions have followed a different approach to elsewhere around the naturist globe. I’ve just returned from their most recent convention at Laguna del Sol near Sacramento, California. Laguna is one of the prestige nudist resorts in the US, with spectacular facilities and an equally spectacular environment surrounding a huge manmade lake. AANR has never really embraced the sporting intensity of other conventions, with sport relegated to a casual, free-and-easy approach and little recognition of winners. AANR conventions main focus is on business and committee meetings to determine direction and funding disposal for the coming year. It is the only opportunity for the rank and file, across this expansive country, to have an input into AANR’s million-dollar annual budget.
Understandably, with 330 million people in the USA, the AANR conventions should attract a proportionately larger attendance than their ‘down-under’ cousins – and they do. Around 700 people attended the recent Laguna Convention while ANF Conventions have been lucky to attract 70 people in recent years. However, this AANR figure, as in Australia, was considerably down on previous years with a definite trend in the past decade of reducing attendances.
So what conclusions can be drawn from 46 years of personal experience in the nudist movement?
Certainly, external social factors have played a very large contributing factor in declining numbers. The changes in commercial shopping hours and the introduction of Sunday trading in the 1980’s virtually decimated family gatherings on a Sunday. Family Sundays were a major factor to naturist clubs attracting family memberships and the younger generation. Also the everincreasing conservatism in the wider community resulting from the growth of the women’s liberation movement was a further blow to social nudism. Thirdly, the ‘me’ factor of the ‘X’ and ‘Y’ generation and their lack of interest in formal, group activities, rules and regulations, has been a further blow to organised nudism.
As a result the ‘baby boomers’ are now the only naturists left to support organised naturism and annual Conventions/Rallies. As this generation ages and gradually moves into retirement villages, the result will be an ever-decreasing number of ‘cardcarrying’ naturists.
Now add to this the modern phenomenon of further reduction in liberty due to fear of exposure from social media, such as Twitter, Facebook etc. Every day we now hear of people being ‘exposed’ due to the reach of the web. An unfortunate image posted on YouTube or Facebook has the potential to be seen by a worldwide audience within minutes of being posted. As a result people are now more and more reluctant to have their image captured by digital media, no matter what the medium may be.
Interestingly, on my visit to Laguna del Sol and the recent AANR Convention there was a ‘blanket’ ban on any photography. Hence all the images that appear in this feature were taken at previous events. Unfortunately, as this negative attitude to photography at naturist events spreads, the result will be little or no publicity of any naturist activities and eventually no reputable and responsible naturist media. It doesn’t take an Einstein to realise that without commercial publicity and the work of naturist entrepreneurs, naturism will die a quick death, with volunteers the only means to spread the word for future group gatherings and individual club activities. As any part-time volunteer organisation will admit, no matter how well intentioned volunteer input may be, it can only achieve minimal output.
From all the above many might argue that the future is not good for the naturist movement.
However, there are still many people very interested in the naturist lifestyle despite declining numbers in structured groups. As many regular readers of TAN will know, the TAN Getaways, each year have attracted many hundreds of readers to a weeklong holiday – totally nude! However, I would estimate that fewer than 5% of these people are members of a nudist club or members of any naturist organisation – BUT they are very interested in the naturist lifestyle and willing to spend their hard-earned dollars on a naturist activity. Also, judging by sales of TAN, both from our paper and online editions, there are tens of thousands of people just in Australia, keen on reading and learning about the naturist lifestyle. So how do we attract this HUGE groundswell of naturists (young and old) into the established naturist movement?
Well, there is a solution and it can be summed up with four words – Public Relations and Publicity!
There are still many younger members in the current naturist community AND they enjoy being active, playing sports and having fun. Let’s again promote naturism as a vibrant, vital lifestyle. We already have the sporting facilities. For example, many young people have never seen the wonderful game of miniten, yet when I’ve seen them have a go, they love it and you have to virtually drag them off the court so that the ‘oldies’ can get a game. Why not promote an international miniten competition – what a great opportunity for PR for the naturist lifestyle!
The original impetus to naturism was physical activity in a healthy environment. Sports and active recreation were the means to achieve a healthy, vital mind and body. We seem to have lost our way from this original philosophy. All the modern medical evidence points to maintaining a regular exercise routine right through all stages of life. Naturist clubs and resorts have all the facilities to achieve this goal – why not promote this aspect of our lifestyle once again?
Unfortunately, most naturist groups relegate PR to the least important item in their planning and budget. Look at the most successful businesses in today’s world. None of them achieved their success purely by word-of-mouth. Advertising/promotion was their initial stimulus to growth! However, along with the publicity, you must first have a good product.
What better product is there for today’s world than the naturist lifestyle? We have one of the best and easiest products to promote – AND you don’t necessarily need a lot of money to promote this product. The media fall over themselves whenever the word ‘Nude’ is mentioned. But not all publicity is necessarily good publicity. Too often publicity surrounding nudist events is done by the textile media with a HUGE ‘tongue in cheek’ – wink, wink, nudge, nudge – and squeeze as many giggles as you can into a 30sec grab, at the end of a news bulletin.
We need professionals to promote our product! As mentioned above there are some nudist organisations that have no problem finding funds. AANR have a million dollar PLUS, annual budget. Where does their money come from? Mainly from the rank and file and commercial naturist facilities! They also have very active fund raising committees. Unfortunately, for AANR, a lot of their funds, by necessity, go into political defence against anti-nudist legislations around their country.
There is also the possibility for naturist clubs to improve their grounds (and attract more members) by applying for grants from governments or funding groups. Did you know that the International Naturist Federation (INF) have funding for some naturist activities, if existing member groups submit an acceptable proposal. Also, as naturist clubs are regarded as community recreational facilities by many Local Governments, they may well be entitled to financial support/ grants for improvements to, or creation of, infrastructure to their existing club facilities.
There are many other possibilities to promote naturism and help reverse the current decline. But existing naturists must be willing to take up the fight – come out and declare themselves as ‘Naturist and Proud’.
The future can be bright – we just need to ‘shine our light’!