The concept of spring break began in the mid-1930s, when swimming coach, Sam Ingram, from Colgate University from Upstate New York decided to take his team down to Fort Lauderdale for some early training. The idea quickly became popular with other college swim coaches and soon the spring training migration became an annual tradition nationwide. When the word got back to campus, other students realized it was a great way to spend their Easter break. The idea gained momentum though the 1940s and 1950s. College students from northern states would flock to the beaches of southern states. Beaches in Texas and Florida were among the most popular destinations.
In 1958, one story became the defining moment of the spring break tradition, when Glendon Swarthout, an English professor from Michigan State University, decided to accompany his students on spring break to Fort Lauderdale. Based on his experience, Swarthout wrote a book originally titled “Unholy Spring” but smartly changed it to “Where the Boys Are.” After “Where the Boys Are,” the spring break floodgates were officially wide open.
By the mid-1980s, an estimated 350,000 students would mob Fort Lauderdale during spring break. In response to the crazy parties, Fort Lauderdale passed tougher public drinking laws and the mayor even went on the news, “Good Morning America,” to tell spring breakers to take their drunk antics somewhere else. Other Florida beaches picked up the overflow of partiers from Fort Lauderdale, including Panama City Beach and Daytona Beach.
In 1986, Daytona Beach became the shooting location for MTV’s first-ever spring break special. By the mid-1990s, MTV’s annual Skinfest had become a cultural phenomenon, showcasing live musical performances and a bikini-clad Carmen Electra as the show’s spokesperson, welcoming spring breakers to destinations like Cancun, Jamaica, and Lake Havasu, Arizona.
Around the same time, another spring break tradition was born in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1983, several Black students organized a picnic for students who were stuck on campus over spring break. The organizers of the picnic dubbed the event Freaknik as a nod to Rick James’ “Superfreak” and the disco hit “Le Freak”. What began as a small gathering with burgers, hot dogs and boom box music exploded over the next decade and became “the” Spring Break destination for Black college students, high school students, and anyone else looking for a great party. By 1996, hundreds of thousands of young Black people would cruise into Atlanta for Freaknik, clogging traffic day and night for a multi-day street party. Freaknik fizzled out around 1999, as the mayor cracked down hard on cruising.
In 2021, amid the pandemic, colleges around the U.S. scaled back spring break or canceled it entirely to discourage partying that could raise infection rates on campus. Texas A&M University opted for a three day weekend, while The University of Alabama and the University of Wisconsin-Madison did away with spring break. Prices for airfare and accommodations were at an all time low. This will not be the case in 2022. Even though prices have risen, a lot more people are expected to travel.