Luxuriant fringing reefs along the southwestern shores of the Caribbean islands of Curaçao and Bonaire (12°N), located outside the most frequent hurricane tracks, are rarely affected by major storms. Consequently, reef growth and long‐term preservation are potentially optimal and distinct from reefs experiencing greater hurricane frequency. Hurricane Lenny (November 1999) took an unusual west‐to‐east track, bisecting the Caribbean Basin north of these islands, but generated heavy waves (3‐6 m) that severely damaged reefs along the normally leeward shores. Massive coral colonies >100 years old were toppled, but even at the most severely damaged sites, 82–85% of colonies remained in growth position. Late Pleistocene (125 ka) elevated reefs in the Lower Terrace of Curaçao record even higher proportions of corals in growth position (93%), possibly reflecting a low hurricane frequency during the Pleistocene highstand. In comparison, coeval Pleistocene reefs in regions that today experience a high hurricane frequency (Great Inagua Island and San Salvador, Bahamas) have lower proportions of corals preserved in growth position (79% and 38%, respectively). These results are consistent with the hypothesis that reefs in regions experiencing very low hurricane frequency, like the southern Caribbean, are more likely to be preserved with corals in primary growth position in comparison to regions with higher hurricane frequency.