If you’ve ever spent any time googling around about Florida beaches, you’ve probably run into Chambers of Commerce websites yelling COME TO OUR BEACH BECAUSE DR. BEACH NAMED US #1 BEACH IN 2005!!!
So just who the heck is Dr. Beach? How did he manage to cultivate this position of authority on beaches?
I decided to explore those questions and this article reveals what I found.
First, here’s a video of him talking so you know what he looks and sounds like:
Dr. Beach’s real name is Stephen Leatherman and, yes, he is a real doctor. Not the medical kind; the university kind. Leatherman earned a Bachelors degree from North Carolina State University in 1970 and earned his Ph.D. in environmental coastal sciences from the University of Virginia in 1976.
He’s taught at a number of universities but has settled in at Florida International University as the “International Hurricane Research Center” and later as a professor. He’s also been an expert witness many times, mostly about riptides, he’s also testified for the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives and once had to escape China.
According to his about page on his website, the whole Top 1o Beach thing started when a journalist called and asked him for the top 10 beaches. Dr. Leatherman says he rattled off the first 10 beaches that came to mind and that ended the call. Unbeknownst to him, the journalist released a Top 10 Beach article and ranked them in the order Dr. Leatherman rattled them off. This created a firestorm of Chambers of Commerce celebrating their inclusion on the list and others, such as Daytona Beach who did not make the cut, had their hometown journalists write scathing columns about them not being selected.
Since then, Dr. Leatherman has created 50 scientific criteria for measuring beaches, such as “beach width at low tide” and “sand softness” and “size of breaking waves.” A full list of the 50 criteria are on his website and his Top 10 list has been released since 1991 on Memorial Day to much fanfare. He’s even been on Oprah.
So far, Florida beaches have 6 wins. Hawaii has the lead with 12 wins.