As the sun rises over the Pacific Ocean, Waimanalo Bay’s powdery white coral sand glows in the morning light. A few people lounge in the sand as a fisherman casts his line into the turquoise water.
On Thursday, Waimanalo Bay Beach Park was named the top beach on an annual top 10 list of U.S. beaches compiled by a coastal science professor known as Dr. Beach.
Professor Stephen Leatherman of Florida International University compiles the popular list of best public beaches in the United States using 50 criteria, including best sand and water quality, environmental management and amenities.
Waimanalo Bay Beach Park beat out Barefoot Beach in Florida as the top pick for 2015, according to Dr. Beach. In recent years Leatherman has given extra points to beaches that have good safety records and no-smoking rules.
"Cigarette butts are the No. 1 form of litter on beaches — plastics in terms of volume but in terms of numbers it’s cigarette butts — so I’m starting to give beaches extra credit for no smoking," Leatherman said in a telephone interview Monday.
Leatherman said he has been to beaches where he counted 10 cigarette butts in a square meter, but smoking is illegal on beaches on Oahu, giving the island a boost on the list.
Leatherman cited Waimanalo’s unassuming location, on a single-lane road in a rural stretch of the Windward Coast of Oahu, as another reason for its selection as the nation’s best of 2015.
"It’s a beach that a lot of people don’t know much about," Leatherman said. "I think it’s one of those little gems." He added that a lot of tourists and out-of-staters probably "miss it all together."
Hawaii beaches have won the nation’s top beach designation 14 of the 25 years Leatherman has published the list.
After Waimanalo, the other beaches on this year’s list are Barefoot Beach in Bonita Springs, Fla., in the No. 2 spot, followed by St. George Island State Park on the Florida Panhandle; Hamoa Beach on Maui; Cape Hatteras, Outer Banks of North Carolina; Cape Florida State Park in Key Biscayne, Fla.; Coast Guard Beach on Cape Cod, Mass.; Beachwalker Park on Kiawah Island, S.C.; Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park in Naples, Fla.; and East Beach in Santa Barbara, Calif.
Up until now, any beach that earned the top spot on Dr. Beach’s list was retired and became ineligible for inclusion in subsequent years.
However, Dr. Beach says after 25 years of publication, next year he will clear the slate and allow any beach in the nation to once again be eligible for the contest and for the top pick.
"I’m going to start all over next year," he said. "This is the end of a 25-year, quarter-century run and every beach is eligible again next year."