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Doctor, what's wrong with us?

By MELANIE AVE
Published June 8, 2007


Stephen Leatherman, aka Dr. Beach, has the best job on the planet, judging the finest beaches for his nationally-touted list.
[Photo Courtesy of Stephen Leatherman.]
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Florida International University professor Stephen Leatherman, better known as Dr. Beach, will announce his top 10 ranking of the nation's best beaches today.

And, for the first time ever, a beach outside of Florida and Hawaii has snagged the top spot.

Sixteen-mile-long Ocracoke Island, N.C., leapfrogged the Pinellas County favorite, Caladesi Island State Park in Dunedin, for the crown.

Already, local tourism officials are crying in their beach chairs as Caladesi - with its pristine beaches, 3-mile nature trail, fishing, shelling, birding, marina and remote location accessible only by ferry or boat - came in second again.

How can you snub Florida, the Sunshine State, for North Carolina? When people think of beaches, North Carolina isn't really the first state that comes to mind.

I haven't snubbed Florida now have I? Look at the list. It's been dominated by Florida and Hawaii for 16 years. I'll tell you what happened. Remember the Outer Banks here got hit in 2003 by Hurricane Isabel? It suppressed the ratings for a while. This area has come back perfectly. The sand dunes are beautiful. The beaches are wide. It took them a few years but that's why they popped up to the top. You know that in Florida that hurricanes can change your fortune considerably can't they?

You think we're just being greedy in coveting the title since Fort De Soto Park, also in Pinellas, was the 2005 winner?

Yeah, well, maybe a little bit. How many times do you think you can be in the top, be in the limelight? You've got over 1,000 beaches in Florida and it's a bit much to think you can get in there a couple times in a row, right? Laughs. I can't blame you for trying. Do you know how hard it is to be on the top 10 beach list? There are 100 or so beaches who are angry not to be on the top 10 list.

Okay, Okay. We are the runner-up. We understand. So tell us, what makes this Ocracoke place so great then? Is it the lighthouse? The wild ponies?

The lure of Blackbeard? (Blackbeard the pirate fought his last battle there.) Basically you've got 16 miles of unspoiled beach. The beach is wide, the sand is white and soft. Not as white as your sand by the way. I take off points for that. The water is nice and beautiful. It's got a lifeguarded beach. (Many beaches got bumped this year for a lack of lifeguards.) Facilities. Showers. Nice rangers. The way you get around here is by bicycle. It's got this quaint village ... that has all the amenities you want. It's just the complete package, and the beach is left untouched. The bad thing is, it's a hard place to get to (reachable by a 40-minute ferry ride or by plane). It's not the end of the world, but you can see it from here.

We know you live in Florida, but you are actually a native of North Carolina. Are you just throwing your home state a bone?

You've done your research. (Laughs.) No, I'm not. I haven't lived here since 1970. If I were going to throw them a bone, it would have been long before now wouldn't it? I'm telling you, it (was) very close. You're talking about a few points here and a few points there. (Red Tide knocked off a few points.) It's not like there are big differences. One day Caladesi is going to get the call.

Is there anything we can do to increase Caladesi's odds next year? Build a lighthouse, perhaps? Haul in some wild horses?

Keep the lifeguards. Cross your fingers there's no hurricanes or Red Tide, and you'll be there.

Would a wad of cash sway things our way?

No, I don't take any gratuities. (No laughter.) Totally no profit in this game. I just enjoy doing this. It's fun being Dr. Beach.

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Melanie Ave can be reached at (727) 893-8813 or mave@sptimes.com.

The best of the beaches

1 Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach, Outer Banks, N.C., above.

2. Caladesi Island State Park, Dunedin/Clearwater.

3. Coopers Beach, Southampton, N.Y.

4. Hanalei Beach, Kauai, Hawaii.

5. Coast Guard Beach, Cape Cod, Mass.

6. Hamoa Beach, Maui, Hawaii.

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

8. Coronado Beach, San Diego.

9. Lighthouse Point Park, Daytona Beach.

10. Siesta Beach, Sarasota.

Source: Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman

[Last modified June 8, 2007, 01:48:49]


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