Destinations

Sandy-slammed shore recovers, tops America's best beach list

May 23, 2013 at 10:07 PM ET

Main Beach
AP
Main Beach is on the list of Top 10 Beaches produced annually by coastal expert Stephen P. Leatherman, also known as "Dr. Beach, " director of Florida International University's Laboratory for Coastal Research.

Seven months after Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc on shoreline communities up and down the East Coast, a swath of sand near the tip of Long Island is proving it’s possible to bounce back from disaster.

On Thursday, Stephen Leatherman, aka, "Dr. Beach," released his annual "Top 10 Beach List," giving Main Beach in East Hampton, N.Y., top honors, in large part because of how fast it rebounded from last fall’s devastation.

“Between Sandy and series of winter storms, it eroded back 200 to 300 feet — that’s a huge amount,” said Leatherman, who also serves as director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at Florida International University in Miami. “But now the beach has recovered by over 200 feet and I expect that within a month or so it will be as wide and beautiful as it’s always been.”

For Leatherman, beach width is just one of fifty different criteria he uses to create the lists he’s been publishing since 1991. Other factors include physical conditions, such as sand softness, water temperature, and wave size; human-related factors, like noise, trash, public safety; and competition from other users, including fishermen, boaters and developers.

Upon earning the top spot, a beach is “retired” and eliminated from future consideration.

Main Beach, it turns out, was No. 3 on last year’s list but scored so well this year that it leapfrogged over Kahanamoku Beach on Oahu, Hawaii, which has held the No. 2 spot for the last two years.

Other beaches on this year’s list didn’t fare as well. On Cape Cod, for example, Coast Guard Beach, near Eastham, slipped from No. 6 to No. 9 due to an uptick in sightings of great white sharks, increasingly drawn to the area by rebounding populations of grey seals.

“I lived on Cape Cod for a number of years and no one ever even thought about seeing a great white shark there,” said Leatherman. “From a safety point of view, I had to knock off a few points.”

Stephen Leatherman, Dr. Beach, Main Beach, Top 10 beaches
Stephen Leatherman
Compiling data on everything from sand structure and water quality to noise and "floatables," Stephen Leatherman, aka, "Dr. Beach," has been creating Top 10 Beach lists for 23 years.

While Leatherman accepts the return of both seals and sharks as natural developments, he reserves special scorn for beach developments of another sort: construction projects.

He cited Beachwalker Park on South Carolina’s Kiawah Island, where developers hope to build 50 homes on an adjacent spit along with a sea wall to protect them.

“I think it’s bad policy to build houses on such a narrow piece of land and the bulkhead will cut off access to people trying to launch canoes and kayaks,” said Leatherman who, as a result, dropped the park from its No. 9 spot last year to No. 10 this year.

That’s not likely to be a problem for Main Beach, protected by both a 300-year-old conservation easement and the fact that it’s sited in a haven for the rich and famous who have a vested interest in protecting it.

“People take such pride in this beach,” Leatherman told NBC News. “A few years ago, I saw Christie Brinkley picking up litter.”

There’s alsoample parking, says Leatherman, but with day passes for non-residents costing $25 per day, he suggests arriving by bicycle.

Dr Beach's Top 10 Beaches for 2013:

1.       Main Beach, East Hampton, N.Y.

2.       Kahanamoku Beach, Oahu, Hawaii

3.       St. George Island State Park, St. George Island, Fla.

4.       Hamoa Beach, Maui, Hawaii

5.       Waimanalo Bay Beach Park, Oahu, Hawaii

6.       Barefoot Beach, Bonita Springs, Fla.

7.       Cape Florida State Park, Key Biscayne, Fla.

8.       Cape Hatteras, Outer Banks, N.C.

9.       Coast Guard Beach, Eastham, Mass.

10.     Beachwalker Park, Kiawah Island, S.C.

Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him on Twitter.

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