Leatherman uses 50 criteria to evaluate beaches, with the most important categories being water cleanliness, safety and management of the beach environment and its facilities. Leatherman uses data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to grade the beaches on water quality and has been to all the beaches on his list.
have big high-rises and all that. Kailua is on the other side of the mountains. It’s like a different world.”
Vari Singh and her family were visiting Oahu from Los Angeles and spent a day in Kailua. “The color of the sea is something like we’ve never seen before. The sand is super soft and fun to play with; it makes good sandcastles,” she said as her daughter wiped sand from her face.
“I get a lot of people who are very happy about it. They like to know where to go,” Leatherman said. But “I always get some pushback. Oh yes, people say, ‘Oh no, we already have too many people coming here. What are you doing?’ It’s almost like they think it’s a secret beach or something. (Kailua) is not quite a secret beach. It is a real gem, though.”
Braden Marquez, 18, who grew up in Kailua, says he is worried about overcrowding but also hopeful about his hometown’s future.
“(My) biggest concern would be losing the locals because of the influx of people,” he said during a recent visit to the beach. “But other than that, I’m pretty excited about all the new things to come.”
For the first 25 years of ranking, any beach that won the top spot on Leatherman’s list was ineligible for inclusion in subsequent years. But in 2015 Dr. Beach cleared the slate to allow any beach in the nation to once again be eligible, resetting the clock — and perhaps the relevance — involving his annual contest.
The other beaches on this year’s list are Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach on North Carolina’s Outer Banks in second place, followed by Grayton Beach State Park in the Florida Panhandle; Coopers Beach, Southampton, N.Y.; Duke Kahanamoku Beach on Oahu; Coast Guard Beach, Cape Cod, Mass.;
Leatherman’s goal in producing the list each year, he says, is to reward high-quality, safe beaches that balance nature with accessibility and amenities. He hopes beaches that haven’t made his list will make changes for a better experience and a healthier coastal ecosystem.