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Dr. Beach Ranks Poipu #1beach in America

(News Item #0021, Published: 09/01/01, Author: Gary A. Waner, )

Nine years after it was smashed, swamped and pockmarked with debris, Poipu Beach has rebounded to be named the best beach in America. The popular sun-and-fun spot on the south end of Kauai in the Hawaiian islands won the top rating in the annual survey of "Dr. Beach," a Florida oceanographer who goes by the nickname while combining American's twin manias for beach going and list making.

"Poipu Beach Park on Kauai was ravaged by Hurricane Iniki in 1992, but has now recovered to its former splendor," says Stephen Leatherman, who when not ranking beaches is a Florida International University professor.

Leatherman has compiled his list since 1991, looking at 50 criteria to judge 650 beaches in the United States.

"It's very difficult to make the Top 20," Leatherman says.

Of Poipu, Leatherman waxes scientific-poetic in his description.

"This coral beach is known for its light golden sand, which blends nicely with the crystal-blue water," he says. "It is perfect for a range of activities because of its unique `tombolo' shape, wherein flat water gradually grades into a pulsating surf. One of my favorite activities is snorkeling with the beautiful tropical fish in the protected waters."

Out of the 650 beaches, Hawaii and Florida regularly sweep the awards. This year is no different.

Hawaii had six beaches on the list, including Poipu. They are Kaanapali on Maui (No. 3), Hanalei Beach on Kauai (4), Hamoa Beach on Maui (7), Makena State Park on Maui (12) and Hanauma Bay on Oahu (15). Florida also had six beaches in the Top 20, though the overall rankings were lower than Hawaii's.

In choosing the best beaches, Leatherman looks at physical factors such as sand softness, wave size, and strength and slope of drop-off.

Next comes biological factors: What color is the water? How clean is it? What's the air temperature? Are there tons of bugs biting your behind?

Finally there's the human factor: Are there lifeguards around? Is the view obstructed? Are there good, clean bathrooms nearby?

Every beach on the 2001 list does benefit from Leatherman's one admitted statistical sleight of hand.

If a beach wins the top slot, it's retired from the competition. So there are 10 beaches, including seven in Hawaii, that can't compete.

Without the retirements, the list could get pretty boring, with a place like Maui's Kapalua, Leatherman's top choice in the original list, going on to win year after year. Though ringed by development compared with 10 years ago, Kapalua, Leatherman admits, is still a winner.

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