LAND O’ LAKES — When the first wave of the pandemic hit Florida in early 2020, KC and Joanna Quintana couldn’t wait to strip off their masks — and the rest of their outfits.
The couple has frequented the clothing-optional Caliente Club & Resorts in Land O’ Lakes for the past decade. In May 2020, the day the resort reopened to members, the Quintanas came back.
“We all have something in common,” KC Quintana said. “Flying the freak flag.”
Pasco County has long held the reputation as the nudist capital of the U.S. But it’s not just longtime nudists who flocked to local clothing-optional businesses after COVID-19 subsided.
Newer — and younger— visitors started milling about pants-less and proud.
“People got really bored sitting at home (during the pandemic) and started rethinking their mindset,” he said. “It’s almost like revenge travel.”
“This past year, everyone had to listen to so many rules and comply with so many guidelines,” said Caliente communications director Anastasiia Chyruk in a phone interview earlier this summer. “Caliente is a place where you can be completely free.”
“Nakations,” if you will, to beaches and campgrounds have significantly increased, according to Erich Schuttauf, executive director of the American Association of Nude Recreation. The 200 or so clubs affiliated with his group are no different.
A 2017 study by Saint Leo University, paid for by the association, estimated that 2.2 million people indulge in nudist travel, which rakes in at least $7 billion to Florida’s economy.
“What we’re seeing is a lot of pent-up demand,” Schuttauf said. “People want to travel. They want to see people and enjoy nature — the way nature intended.”
Two weeks after its 2020 reopening, Caliente found itself almost fully booked up.
Throngs of nudists devoured takeout meals with disposable silverware until sit-down dining resumed. They enjoyed lounging on the newly-bought patio sets and under large, white shades. Others participated in pickle-ball tournaments and watched live music in the outdoor nightclub. (Caliente’s indoor Fiesta Nightclub reopened when statewide COVID-19 restrictions loosened.)
Mid-week occupancy neared 100 percent through this June, Chyruk said; that month also brought more than 40 new memberships.
An upcoming townhome project will add six buildings with up to 42 single-family units, potentially adding to the count of Caliente residents. Around 350 people live on-site today.
And, it seems, younger people are attracted to the buzz.
Twenty-six to 35-year-olds have become the second-highest age group among Caliente visitors. Long gone are the days when nudism was reserved for those 55 and up, said Caliente social media director Kevin Sellers.
“A lot of folks said, ‘This wasn’t for us before. Now let’s give it a shot,’” Sellers said.
Robbe White, founder of the Florida Young Naturists, said his organization has seen a surge of new members, despite the fact that the group skipped hosting events in 2020.
“I’m getting emails and Facebook messages on a daily basis with people asking questions,” said White. “I think a lot of people, coming out of not being able to go out last year, are looking for something new.”
The Florida Young Naturists formed in 2009 as a small group of friends who went to campgrounds and beaches together. Membership ballooned to more than 300 before the pandemic, with an internet presence drawing visitors from as far as China, Iceland and Australia. They gather throughout the year at resorts around the state, such as Lake Como in Lutz.
“In the ‘60s and ’70s, there were a lot of young people, with kids and families, and Lake Como was booming. Those people have aged,” White said.
“Young people are definitely interested,” he continued. “I just think it’s knowing that it exists.”
The family-friendly, clothing-optional resort has a large older population, but charges just $5 per day for those ages 18 to 30. The younger visitors mingle among longtime residents dining at the Bare Buns Cafe and belting karaoke at the Butt Hutt.
The influx of guests may have prompted Lake Como to physically expand. The Pasco County Planning Commission continued both of Lake Como’s applications for a 57-space RV park in a July 8 meeting. A representative for the resort declined to comment on the plans, adding that “several items are up in the air.”
Lake Como often hosts events for the Florida Young Naturists, like the upcoming Reignite Naked Bash taking place Aug. 12-15. There will be a screening of the nudist film Garden of Eden, which was filmed at Lake Como in 1954. The celebration will also feature guided meditations, lakeside camping, fire performances and a drum circle.
“We have a lot of important discussions and workshops about how we can feel with those around us and make the world a better place,” White said.
“Nudity is just a tool to bring people together.”