Even though Fort Lauderdale Beach is a shell of the spring break mecca it once was, crowds will still roll in from late February to early April, with a peak in mid-March. Those weeks, expect better eye candy at the beach, more fake IDs in the bars, and the occasional wayward skinny dipper.
Fort Lauderdale Beach lifeguard Jim McCrady is about to work his 27th spring break. He's already noticed the beaches filling up. "It's very crowded right now," McCrady says. "It's mostly families, but just give it a week or so and the demographic will change."
Florida Atlantic University, University of Central Florida, and University of Florida are off first, from March 2 to 9. University of Miami, Florida International University, Florida State University, and University of South Florida have synchronized their midsemester breaks for the following week (March 9 to 16). The weekend of March 8 and 9, when the vacation of every school in Florida overlaps, is expected to be a blacked-out whirlwind.
"Back when I started, we had 500,000 to 600,000 kids per spring break cycle," the veteran lifeguard remembers. "They've dropped, but the last time, I think they estimated 50,000 to 80,000 kids. That's nothing close to what it used to be, but it's definitely the most crowded time of the year, and we really bring our A-game."
Alcohol, glass bottles, and loud music are not allowed on the beach. The lifeguards can't inspect every cooler, but they keep an eye out for folks who in a drunken stupor might try to brave the waters. If a patron complains about rowdy behavior from any college ruffians, the lifeguards will diplomatically try to resolve the situation, and if they can't, they won't hesitate to call the cops.
Spring break enemy number one is rip currents, McCrady explains. "People come down who aren't acclimated with the ocean. They might be great swimmers in their Midwest swimming pools, but the ocean is different."
McCrady has rescued beachgoers who were on their college swim teams. He even saved 15 or so guys on the Canadian national soccer team who were swept 150 yards out to sea in a particularly aggressive rip current. He deals with drunk people every day, he says.
Even though Fort Lauderdale Beach lifeguards pride themselves on the lives they save during their watch, McCrady explains, there is not much they can do once their shift ends at 5 p.m.
"The beach never closes," he points out.