Explore Fort Lauderdale's Amazing Fitness Culture

Learn how Fort Lauderdale evolved from spring break hot spot to healthy haven

Fort Lauderdale has come a long way from when it used to be called “Fort Liquordale.” The nickname was first given to the city in honor of the rum-runners who smuggled illegal liquor from the nearby Bahamas back to the United States, during the 1920s prohibition era.

The designation was used again to characterize the extreme partying of the spring breakers that descended upon the city from the 1960s to the 1980s, crowding its beaches and bars for fun in the sun. Today, these images of “Fort Liquordale” have faded away in favor of a city focused on a healthy lifestyle for its out-of-town guests and residents.

Aerial view of Fort Lauderdale beach

“The evolution of Fort Lauderdale is remarkable,” said Todd Bothel, deputy director and supervising curator for the Fort Lauderdale Historical Society. “From its days of being a sleepy fisherman’s village from 1900 until the 1920s, then as a training center for the military during World War II, through the wild days of the student vacationers from the north, we’ve now become a world-class, world-traveler destination.”

Bothel said that over the last 10 years, there has been much redevelopment in the downtown area and the beaches. 

“There are now so many healthy activities to choose from, far beyond from when just downing a rum swizzle and lazing around to perfect a tan were the norm,” he said.

It’s what draws Jenna Wolfe, a lifestyle and fitness expert and frequent traveler to Fort Lauderdale. “When I first started coming here years ago, it was all about just sitting on the beach. Eye candy used to take the form of a polka-dot bikini; now it’s the bright colors of water crafts, parasails and more—it’s all so inviting.”

Skimboarding in Fort Lauderdale beach

And Wolfe is not alone in her desire to have an active vacation. According to the Global Wellness Institute, wellness travel is set to grow more than nine percent in 2017, nearly 50 percent more than overall global tourism.

Fort Lauderdale’s established active lifestyle has become the go-to spot for travelers seeking to maintain their health during their vacations. Wolfe goes on to say that what’s different about the destination now is that the city maintains its healthy tendencies year-round.

Throughout the year, there are numerous competitive events and opportunities to exercise outside. Several organic farmers markets, such as Las Olas Farmers Market and restaurants with plant-based menus, like the upscale eatery Sublime, showcasing the area’s commitment to better eating. “The active lifestyle is fully incorporated into the fabric of this city,” Wolfe said.

Las Olas Sunday Market in Fort Lauderdale

Joanie Bowden, the spa director at St. Somewhere Spa at Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort agrees.

“At first, wellness meant a good massage," said Bowden. "Now it’s how do I eat better, sleep better, exercise better, maintain all of this on my vacation and continue this at home?”

She believes that the Fort Lauderdale area has an edge because of its proximity to the beach.

While the downtown areas have indeed been revitalized to reflect the city’s dedication to a fit way of life, the beach is still the major draw.

“My clients do yoga, but on a beach—and on a water board,” said Dorron Blumberg, professional fitness expert and sports psychologist. “Paddleboarding, waterskiing, kite-surfing, you name it and my clients are requesting these [outdoor] activities.”

Blumberg said one of the newest water activities is the water jet pack, which looks part sci-fi and part British Secret Service agent. It’s a water-propelled jet pack attached to a water-craft that sends you high up into the air. “It’s a fun twist on some of the more usual water sports,” said Blumberg.

jet packing

So what’s the future for a city already in tune to fitness? Blumberg believes that wellness retreats are on the rise and that is going to continue to go gangbusters.

For Wolfe, it may be just a bit more personal.

“I come here with my two small children," said Wolfe. "We all eat better, sleep better and feel better when we are in Fort Lauderdale."

Robyn Webb
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