Ocracoke Beach. Photo: P. Vankevich

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By Peter Vankevich

It is no secret that Stephen Leatherman, aka “Dr. Beach,” loves Ocracoke and this year he has again awarded Ocracoke’s Lifeguard beach the No. 2 beach in the United States. 

Grayton Beach State Park in the Florida panhandle attained first place and the Lighthouse Beach in Buxton is the No. 5 beach.

“It is my favorite getaway beach,” Leatherman writes about Ocracoke.  “Here you will find some of the wildest beaches in the country.  Big surf dominates in late summer so families with children may want to come earlier in the year.”

Ocracoke became the first beach in North Carolina to make number one on his annual top 10 Beaches in the America. That was back in 2007. Once a beach makes number one, it was retired from the list. Leatherman made a change a few years ago permitting a number one beach to be listed in the top two through 10, but not number one again.

So, for the last three years, the Ocracoke Lifeguard beach has been listed as the second-best beach.

Dr. Stephen Leatherman, aka ‘Dr. Beach.’

Leatherman, a professor and director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at Florida International University has released this list every year since 1991, just before Memorial Day Weekend.

The No. 1 beach, Grayton “is known for its super-white, fine sand and clean, clear turquoise water; the water is shallow and warm, making for good swimming,” Leatherman writes.  “Waves are generally measured in inches so the water is safe unless an onshore wind has kicked up the surf in which case it is best to stay out of the water and explore the rest of this nearly 2,000-acre nature park,” he states in a press release.

As for the No. 5 Lighthouse Beach in Buxton, he says, “This lifeguarded beach is the number one surfing spot on the U. S. Atlantic Coast as the large offshore sand banks, known as Diamond Shoals, cause wave refraction focusing wave energy on this beach. I enjoy strolling down to the Cape Point where a long sand spit often exists, making me feel somewhat like Moses because the waves are coming from both directions as you walk along this narrow string of sand in the ocean.”

Lighthouse Beach also made the top ten in 2018, coming in at number six.

Leatherman, who grew up in Charlotte, says he had the largest backyard sandbox in the neighborhood as a kid. He has written or edited 16 books and more than 200 journal articles.

He uses 50 criteria to evaluate beaches with the most important categories being safety, water cleanliness and management of the beach environment and its facilities.

About Ocracoke, he adds, “Don’t expect to play golf or stay at the Ritz; the main pursuits are swimming and beachcombing.”  

Here are this year’s top ten beaches:

1. Grayton Beach State Park, Florida Panhandle
2. Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach, Outer Banks of North Carolina
3. Coopers Beach, Southampton, New York
4. Duke Kahanamoku Beach, Oahu, Hawaii
5. Lighthouse Beach, Buxton, Outer Banks of North Carolina
6. Caladesi Island State Park, Dunedin/Clearwater, Florida
7. Hapuna Beach State Park, Big Island, Hawaii
8. Coast Guard Beach, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
9. Coronado Beach, San Diego, California
10. Beachwalker Park, Kiawah Island, South Carolina

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