Every year Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman, the Director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at Florida International University, ranks America’s top 10 best beaches. Beaches in North Carolina, South Carolina, Cape Cod, Florida, Hawaii and California are always on the list, as well as certain sandy shores on the East End. In 2010 Cooper’s Beach in Southampton was ranked the best beach in the country, and for the past four years Main Beach in East Hampton has been slowly climbing its way up—in 2008 and 2009 it was ranked sixth, in 2010 it was ranked fifth, in 2011 it was fourth, and this year it occupies the prestigious number three spot.
What this all means is a subject of some confusion. The features that make one beach better than another seem to be a matter of personal opinion. If you like surfing, then a beach with a nice break would rank high on your list, but if you are scared of drowning than you might like your beach to resemble a lake. Nonetheless, Dr. Leatherman has tried to make his ranking system as scientific as possible, and he has gotten a lot of people to take it seriously—especially those from these beach communities who like to lord their ranking over the heads of lesser beach communities. When Cooper’s Beach was ranked “best” in the country two years ago, people from Southampton could hardly shut up about it. But Southamptonites should not despair that their beach is no longer on top—once a beach makes it to No. 1, it is no longer eligible for the competition. This is one of the major faults of his list—it does not allow for any dynasties.
Dr. Leatherman determines the “best beach” from the perspective of a typical beach goer who enjoys remaining mostly sedentary and admiring everything around him. He has devised a list of 50 criteria from which this competition can take place—ranking everything on a one-through-five scale. Among this list are categories such as beach width, sand softness, water temperature, color of the sand, amount of trash or other “misfits,” surrounding vistas, presence of lifeguards, intensity of use, and even smell. Even though he might be missing certain important items (like number of fatties in small bathing suits), it would be hard to imagine a more comprehensive system. And as long as the East End beaches are well represented, there is really nothing to complain about.
Unfortunately, this year Main Beach is our only horse in the race. According to Dr. Beach, it “provides the perfect blend of nature and built environment.” He cites the town’s conservation easement, which dates back over 300 years, as one of the main reasons for its permanence on the list. He also says it is a “great place for star-spotting” since “many actors and actresses” frequent it for its “idyllic setting in a small village.” The sand is made of quartz and has “towering dunes and beautiful clean and clear blue water.” A rave review. East Hamptonites should be proud but also weary of the rise of their beach on the list. If it ever makes it to No. 1, it will be forgotten by Dr. Beach and his list and the East End risks being completely excluded from this competition.