Some of us who surf know many of the greats: Kelly Slater, Andy Irons and Laird Hamilton. Some of us don’t know about the original greats, that turned surfing into a worldwide sport. This is a tribute to Duke Kahanamoku, the father of surfing the original Waterman. Duke Kahanamoku inspiritual words say it all on the back of his business cards: “In Hawaii we greet friends, loved ones or strangers with ‘Aloha,’ which means with love. Aloha is the key word to the universal spirit of real hospitality, which makes Hawaii renowned as the world’s center for understanding and fellowship. Try meeting or leaving people with Aloha. You’ll be surprised by their reaction. I believe it, and it is my creed. Aloha to you.”
Duke was born on August 20th 1890 in Honolulu, Hawaii and by the age of eight he taught himself how to surf in Waikiki Beach. Duke became a strong swimmer at an early age and in 1911 swam for the first time competitively in Hawaii’s first AAU swim meet. From there he became an Olympic Swimmer breaking the 100-meter freestyle in 1912 in Stockholm, using the famous “Kahanamoku Kick”, the Encyclopedia of Surfing says. He went on to break records and won a gold medal in the 1920 Summer Olympics and a silver at the 1924 Olympics at the age of 34!
As if Dukes life thus far wasn’t impressive enough, in 1925 the Honolulu Star-Bulletin named his next milestone a “Superhuman Rescue Act”. According to an article review he saved eight fisherman off the coast of Newport Beach California where a 40-foot shipping boat was destroyed by hazardous waters (The Inertia). His ability to be fearless led him to greatness in many areas, but most importantly was his greatness in surfing.
Duke Kahanamoku propelled surfing into popularity by utilizing his fame as a swimmer to get the attention of the masses drawing them to surf events in California and on the Atlantic Coast. According to the Encyclopedia of Surfing, some of his first exhibitions in 1912 were right here in Atlantic City, New Jersey! He went on to spread the joy of surfing to Australia and New Zealand in 1914 to 1915, teaching people all over the world how to surf and about surfing culture. This undoubtedly universalized surfing, but specifically popularized surfing along the coast of Southern California starting in 1915 through the 1930s. The impact these events had on the surfing community proves this man is truly legendary in the surf realm and should be revered as such.
Not only was Duke a Surf phenom, in his later years he served as an Ambassador for Hawaii and pushed for Statehood. Once Hawaii became a state he was given the paid title of “Ambassador of Aloha”. The father of surfing was also an actor, appearing in at least 14 films. You can tell that this is a man that lived his life with passion, momentum, courage and love; love for everything he did and everyone he knew. He overcame many adversities and became the epitome of greatness in everything he achieved. The love of his hobbies and his heritage is a major reason that surfing is now considered a sport and not just a hobby. The legend of Duke Kahanamoku lives on in several surfing, swimming and the Olympic Hall of Fame. We thank you Duke, hopefully one day I will have the honor of standing next to your Bronze Statue in Waikiki.
Photographer: Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung