The rites of spring remain much the same in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.: night walkers and fast talkers moving down the streets in squads of three or four; the laughing boys pulling beer cans out of the backs of their jeans; the sighs of the girls, their Valium eyes; the nonstop motion of the cars as they move down Highway A1A, tuned to the gunning of engines and the whooping of whiskey-soaked voices rising on the tide of their own desire.

The legend of the place grew from a movie, or so the cops never tire of saying. "That was it, the crowning nail in our coffin," says Chief Leo F. Callahan of the Fort Lauderdale police. "Ever since then it's been the only place to go."

The annual swarm has grown since they made "Where the Boys Are" in 1961, back when sex, at least the way it was portrayed at the time, made those who it sorry and those who didn't smug and whatever they did, they did it with members of the opposite sex. Nowadays the proud young lovers strolling with leonine grace down the thin silver of beach that separates the ocean from the highway may both be male, and regret has more to do with the hangovers incurred than with whatever events might have preceded their onset.

Callahan expects about 50,000 students to hit the time the wave crests the last week in March -- already he's got his force on a six-day work week. These last few weeks have seen only the opening skirmishes in the invasion, but so far the chief is pleased with the current crop. "They're more reminiscent of the kids of the early '60s," he says. "I think the future of the country is in good hands."

The Swedish girls cause quite a commotion when they arrive on the beach, full pouting lips and ice-blue eyes and bikinis brimful of rosy flesh. There are three of them making the slow march to the sea and each is blonder than the next an it is driving the Dekes from Indiana bananas. There are, as it happens, three Dekes, a symmetry lost on one, and to haul up the blanket, the radio, the Styrofoam cooler, the university T-shirt and the three different brands of suntan lotion is for them the work of a moment. Soon they are paired up and listening attentively as the lead Swede delivers a breathy monologue on the perils of the Fort Lauderdale night life. "It is so strange, you know, the way the boys here stick their bottoms out of the windows of their autos. It seems to me like a very strange way to ask for sex."

Tall, dark-haired Tony explains to them the art of mooning, and that accomplished, tne company falls silent, as the sun burns down making the Indiana boys drowsy. Tony, waking to find a bare leg stretched across his studies it with thoughtful countenance.

"In America, you know," he says finally, "the women shave their legs."

"Why do they do that?"

"I guess they think it looks better."

"Do you think it looks better?"

A judicious pause. "Not if you're a blond," he says finally.

Fashioning his best smile, Tony raises himself up to make eye contact, only to discover that each and every Swede has ditched the top of her bikini. He inhales slowly. "Got any plans for tonight?" he finally asks. It sounds more like a prayer than a question.

Never cruise the beach in the early afternoon, is the tennis pro's advice. Go too early, the girls are distracted, too concerned about their tans to think about the evening ahead. Go too late, and there's nothing left, Mid-afternoon is best, before the supply is picked over but after they've had a chance to get drowsy, more vulnerable.

He works at one of the hotels away from the strip, coming down from Canada every year for the season, a leathery little land shark tossing out his lines to see what will come swimming to his shore. "Nice legs," he smiles down to a long-limbed brunette, and then, a few blankets down, "Nice eyes," to the blond whose sun he is blocking.

He likes them young, he says. "No more than 20. After that, they get kind of boring, you know. They think they know the world, there's nothing you can teach them." He looks up restlessly, the afternoon is fading and he's wasting time. He gets up to go, moves a few feet down the beach. "Is that a book you're reading?" he asks a woman reading a book.

He is an older man, and his sharp eyes show he worked hard for his money, knew whom to trust and knew when to look the other way. White hair frosts a chest that overlooks a potbelly and withered shanks poke out of his long swimming trunks. He looks down anxiously at his young wife, looks at the glory of her perfect brown legs and painted toes, the perfect arch of her eyebrows, the long dangerous curve of her neck.

She lies motionless in the sand, practicing her perfection, and he hovers anxiously. "You're going to burn, sweetheart, do you want me to put some on your shoulders, do you want me to put some there now? How about a dip in the water, sweetheart, it feels wonderful, would you like to go in? What can I get for you, can I get you a drink, would you like?"

The litany continues, incessant as surf slapping weakly at the shore, until finally she raises her tawny head. The diamond on her finger flashes cold fire, steals heat from the sun. The manicured nails curl into a fist. "Why don't you take a walk, darling," she says. "A long walk, darling, it will do you good."

The compact young woman with the New York accent, she's bored, she's read the copy of Cosmo five times over and she's brushed the sand from her crocheted bikini so often that only the geriatric set is still bothering to look up. Her slack-jawed boy-friend's been asleep for hours, he doesn't look like he'll ever get up, he just lies there sauteeing in his suntan lotion.

So finally, she wakes him up, she says, "Hey, whatcha want to do, you want to cigarette, you want to catch some more Zs or what?" She brushes off the sand once more, only more slowly this time, see, and finally a vagrant thought comes to occupy his empty eyes. "You want to go up to the room?" he says.

She pops her gum reflectively, shrugs her thin shoulders. She wants to go up to the room.

The old men come early, to get a good view. They bring their plastic lawn chairs and set them in the shade of the palm trees and drink from their thermos bottles and talk softly and laugh easily. "Well, well," one of them says. "It takes all kinds."

Their soft patter is rarely interrupted, everything that goes on about them is woven into their conversation. Only one thing stops them completely and that is the sight of a barrel-chested man, muscles bulging, stomping down the beach in a string bikini that from the back hides nothing from his shoulder blades to his ankles. His eyes glare as he strides along, staring straight ahead; even the anchor tattooed on his arm seems to issue a challenge.

Every head on the beach has turned and silence covers the plastic chairs as they watch him disappear down the beach, "Well, well well," one finally manages. "It takes all kinds to make the world go 'round."

"Hey you! What kinda car is that?"

"What?"

"I said, what kinda car is that?"

"What's your name?"

"What?"

"What floor are you on?"

"Tenth. Hey, I really like that car."

"What room are you in?"

"What?"

"I SAID WHAT ROOM ARE YOU IN?"

"Now old are you?"

"Twenty-one. How old are you?"

"Eighteen. You got any beer?"

"Sure. You gonna come down or should I come up?"

"What?"