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In 2002, the U.S. Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp, honoring the “father of surfing.”



Duke married the love of his life, Nadine, in a private ceremony in Kailua-Kona on August 2, 1940, ending Duke’s bachelorhood at age 50. They became Honolulu’s unofficial “first couple,” frequently entertaining dignitaries and celebrities at their Black Point home.

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On September 3rd, 1922, The Daily Telegram announced that Duke Kahanamoku had been declared a “professional athlete.” This was decided because Duke recommended a certain brand of goods in an advertisement, he was being paid by the Outrigger Club of Honolulu to boost Honolulu and Hawai‘i, and completed various character roles in the movies.


When Duke Kahanamoku was young, he preferred a traditional surfboard, which he called his papa nui. It was constructed after the fashion of ancient Hawaiian olo boards. Made from the wood of a koa tree, it was sixteen feet long and weighed 114 pounds. The board was without a skeg, which had yet to be invented. Later in his career, he would often use smaller boards, but always preferred those made of wood. One of his early surfboards, with his name across the bow, is preserved in the Bishop Museum in Honolulu.




In his teens, Duke took up the life of a beach boy, gathering daily with other beach boys by a hau tree at Waikiki. This is where the original expression “beach boy” came from. Duke and his peers surfed, swam, repaired nets, shaped surfboards and sang together. This group was the start of what later became Hui Nalu, one of the very first surf clubs.




Surfer Magazine

HONOLULU, August 24, 2009 – Copyright by Jodi Wilmott. Surfers from around the world are gathering here in Wa

ikiki to remember the greatest waterman of all time: Duke Paoa Kahanamoku, born August 24, 1890. In honor of his life, the annual Duke’s OceanFest is underway, staged at Queen’s Beach at the foot of his bronze statue and on the sands where surfing, as we know it today, began.


While a single Olympic gold medal is enough to substantiate many an athlete’s life, Kahanamoku won six, three gold for swimming, two silver for swimming, and a bronze for water polo. Yet today he is most widely renowned for being the father of modern day surfing.


During his 77 years on Earth, Duke rolled 10 lifetimes of accomplishments into one to emerge as Hawaii’s most famous native son after King Kamehameha the Great: An Olympic career that spanned an incredible 21 years; esteemed outrigger canoe steersman; Hollywood actor; bodysurfer; Sheriff of Honolulu; diver; official State of Hawaii Ambassador of Aloha; sailor; and surfer of all surfers.


He is remembered today most fondly as an exemplary human being and the greatest waterman that ever lived.


“To see Duke coming in at Waikiki on his long olo board was to see surfriding at it’s best,” wrote Tom Blake, whose own life and lifetime of achievements were inspired by Kahanamoku. He continued:”To me, the Duke is... the man by which to measure the race, the surfrider by which to measure the surfriders of all time.”*


There’s not a surfer worth their salt today who hasn’t at some point pondered the life and contributions of Duke and longed to have had the opportunity to share a wave or spend a moment in his presence.


One so fortunate was Hawaii’s Fred Hemmings, the 1968 world surfing champion who was part of the Duke Kahanamoku Surf Team in the late ’60s. Hemmings traveled around the country with Duke and spent daily time with him during his final years.


“Duke was a man of great virtue and spiritual worth,” recalls Hemmings. “The most valuable of all was his humility. He wholly believed that a human being’s greatest value is in the worth of their soul, not their pocketbook.


“He was a wealth of wisdom but never so presumptuous as to instruct in a pedantic way. It was up to you to find the message with Duke. You learned through osmosis and he offered many great opportunities.”


The eighth annual Duke’s OceanFest kicked off this morning with a blessing at Duke’s statue. In the days to come, OceanFest will continue the celebration with various surf meets including the Rabbit Kekai Toes on the Nose Pro Longboard Classic (Wednesday, Thursday, Friday); the C4 Waterman stand-up paddle surfing event (Wednesday, Thursday); the Gidget Women’s Pro Open longboard competition (Thursday, Friday); waterman relay competitions; and surfboard water polo.


Today would have been Kahanamoku’s 119th birthday.


For further information: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

References: *Sandra Kimberley Hall, Duke. A Great Hawaiian, p. 65.


"Duke was not materialistic or wasteful. He took good care of all his possessions. In this photograph in 1963, he uses an electric sander on his Australian surf ski, a gift to him in 1939 when a team of Australian surf life savers and swimmers came to compete in an aquatics meet. Knowing that Aussies enjoy a good laugh, then- Sheriff Duke staged a mock arrest and lock-up of the visiting officials." Hall and Ambrose 1995, page 83


Duke Kahanamoku has been hailed as the earliest and greatest promoter of the Aloha shirt. He even had his own line of shirts, which are widely coveted by collectors today.


Copyright by A. R. Gurrey Jr.

The Mid-Pacific Magazine Published by Alexander Hume Ford, Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii, Volume 4, Number 5, December,1912, unpaginated. Note that in this image Duke Kahanamoku is riding in "goofy" stance (that is right foot forward), whereas subsequent photographs indicate his stance as "natural" (left foot forward). Either the image was flopped from the negative, or more likely, he reversed his stance for the benefit of the photographer.


On June 14, 1925, while living in Newport Beach, California, Duke Kahanamoku rescued eight men from a fishing vessel that capsized in heavy surf. 29 fishermen went into the water and 17 perished. Using his surfboard, he was able to make quick trips to and from shore to increase the number of sailors rescued. Newport’s police chief called Duke’s efforts “the most superhuman rescue act the world has ever seen.” —Long Beach Press 1912





On July 11, 1913, The Long Beach Press reported that “As a result of a battle to the death with a ten-foot eel, the largest ever seen here. Duke Kahanamoku, who won the world's championship at Stockholm, is today minus the index finger on his right hand and his swimming prowess may be permanently impaired. The swimmer encountered the eel while practicing for the Australian swimming championships off shore here, and after a fight lasting several minutes, choked it to death. He was exhausted when he reached the shore, with the eel's body in tow.” The battle with the eel has not been substantiated and the printed story may be an exaggerated version of an actual event. However, due to the fact that there are several pictures of duke in later years, with all 10 fingers, we have concluded that this story was sensationalized based on Dukes popularity in Long Beach.



Click here to go to the OceanFest Website…