On the west side of the Big Island, the landscape is dominated by ancient volcanic streams and rugged coastlines. Then you come to Hapuna Beach.
There you have arrived in paradise with the contrast of black lava rock, white sand and blue water – at least “Dr. Beach “believes.
“It’s like an oasis,” said Stephen Leatherman, who uses US beaches on his annual list under the code name “Dr. Strand “for three decades.
The sand “looks super white there because of the black lava next to it,” he said. “I think the contrast makes you think, ‘Oh my god, I’ve never seen sand this white in my life.’ “
Hapuna Beach State Park was named the best beach in the United States in Leatherman’s 2021 Sandy Shore Rating.
Leatherman, a coastal scientist and professor at Florida International University, hopes his 30th year list will encourage people to get out and leave the past year of pandemic battles in the rearview mirror.
He acknowledged that people will have to pay extra to get tested for COVID-19 before coming to the islands. “Hawaii is a very special place and I think it’s worth it,” he said.
Kandi Miranda, who owns the Manuela Malasada Company and operates a food truck near Hapuna Beach State Park, was born and raised on the Big Island. She was able to stay open to locals during the pandemic and is optimistic about the return of visitors.
“There was a lot of darkness at that time, I mean everyone was closing,” she said of the early days of the pandemic. “I wanted people to know that we are still there in good times and bad.”
Miranda said Hapuna Beach is a powerful place – both spiritually and literally. “It’s magical with no excuse,” she said.
When the water is calm it’s a great place, said Miranda. But when the ocean rises and big waves start crashing, things can get “really dangerous”.
“It’s beautiful, but there is a very strong pull,” she said.
Growing up on the island of Hawaii, a place with active volcanoes, towering waterfalls and huge cliffs, she learned to respect nature.
“The ocean in general is a really powerful place in our culture,” she said. “It’s very healing, but you know how we grew up, there is, but it is taking away, right?”
Leatherman agreed, saying that while Hapuna has a well-trained group of lifeguards and is great for swimming and snorkeling on calm days, the winter waves can be deceiving.
Rift currents cause “the greatest loss of life we have on beaches,” he said. “I’m trying to give people a better understanding of rupture currents because a lot of people don’t understand them. They say, ‘We can’t see them, then they’re probably not there.’ “
Leatherman uses 50 criteria to rate beaches, with safety and cleanliness being the most important categories.
Leatherman uses data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to assess the water quality of the beaches and has been on his list of all beaches.
Beaches in Hawaii are consistently rated highly, and in recent years he has given them extra points for smoking bans.
“First of all, it’s a health problem,” he said of cigarette smoke. “But the biggest thing is the disposal of the cigarette butts. People see beaches like a giant ashtray. “
Cigarettes “are numerically the number one type of waste,” said Leatherman.
For the first 25 years of the ranking, any beach that took first place on the Leatherman list was not eligible for inclusion in the years that followed. But in 2015, Dr. Beach the slate so every beach in the nation can again be eligible, although new winners are now retiring.
Last year Leatherman chose a beach outside of Hawaii because island locks and quarantine rules made it nearly impossible for people to visit.
“I know a lot of people have been vaccinated,” he said. “And that’s why I think it’s okay this year for Hawaii to be on the list. And I encourage people to go there. “
“You can really distance yourself socially on the Big Island,” added Dr. Beach added.
Rounding out the top 10 beaches on this year’s list: Coopers Beach in Southampton, New York; Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach in North Carolina’s Outer Banks; St. George Island State Park in Florida; Lighthouse Beach, Buxton, North Carolina Outer Shore; Duke Kahanamoku Beach in Waikiki; Caladesi Island State Park in Dunedin and Clearwater, Florida; Coronado Beach in San Diego, California; Beachwalker Park on Kiawah Island, South Carolina; and Coast Guard Beach in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.