Duke Paoa Kahanamoku, Hawaii's first and greatest Olympic champion and surfer
A true legend for all of us who appreciate all that Duke has accomplished.
Born in 1890, he was named after his father, who according to legend was named for the Duke of Edinburgh who visited Hawaii in 1869.
Duke was the oldest of six brothers, all aquatic athletes who were born and raised near the beach at Waikiki.
He began his career way before his time; he was born a natural athlete. But it's when he broke his first swimming world records in the Honolulu harbor that America recognized this talented man, who later would represent the United States, winning Olympic Gold.
Duke was the driving force behind many firsts in water sports: He not only popularized swimming but introduced surfing to the world. If Duke wasn't at school, he was surfing in Waikiki with his brothers. They dominated all the breaks at Waikiki and paved the way for the tourists who came to visit. Duke was a natural teacher and loved the attention of pretty tourist ladies - he was often seen teaching the girls basic skills for surfing, and his favorite was riding tandem with them.
In the early part of the 1900s Waikiki was becoming a popular beach among wealthy socialites, Hollywood actors and important dignitaries from around the world.
Duke and other Waikiki beachboys became ambassidors to the "new" sport of Surf - Riding (surfing).
Soon word spread to the mainland and the sport became trendy among the socialites who came over by ship to see what all the hoopla was about with the "natives."
It's not commonly recognized what a large part surfing and Duke Kahanamoku played in tunring Hawaii into the jewel in the Pacific crown.
Today, you will find among the collectors, collectible posters, postcards and ads from the Hawaii tourist bureau showing surfing and canoeing with the locals and tourists together. Many of the advertisements and promotions featured Hawaii's favorite son, Duke.
Because of Duke's world renown swimming talent, he was pursued by people of all countries to swim in their local events and put on swimming & surfing exhibitions. So began Duke's journeys by ship to the United States (Hawaii was not yet a state), Australia and New Zealand where he broke world records, won gold and introduced surfing to the world.
At the age of 22 he won his first gold metals. He competed in Olympics until he was 42, with qualifying times as good as or better than those of his younger days. For 21 years he was an accomplished Olympic athlete.
Through Duke's travels on the mainland, he often made headlines whereever he went. While he was in California, he saved the lives of eight men when their yacht over- turned along the California rugged coastline. The newspaper quoted Duke as stating, "I was using a few tricks with the surfboard."
Already a legend in Hawaiii and the mainland, he gravitated to Hollywood in 1925 and spent 8 years as an actor there. He played chiefs - Polynesian chiefs, Aztec chiefs, Indian chiefs - all kinds of chiefs. He played chiefs in "Wake of the Red Witch" and "Mr. Robert."
Returning to Oahu, Hawaii in 1934, he became sheriff of the city and county of Honolulu and in addition an unofficial ambassador of good will for Hawaii. For the next quarter of a century, he was re-elected with monotonous regularity to the post which he held until early 1961 when the position was abolished under the new city charter. What he lost in his post as sheriff, he quickly regained in recognition of his years of unofficial service as an ambassador of good will. He was made official greeter for the city and county, a position he held until his death January 22, 1968.
Duke Paoa Kahanamoku, the Islands' famous "Mr. Hawaii", did more in the 20th century to make Hawaii known among the world than perhaps anyone in the 50th State. Pure Hawaiian and descendant of Ali'i (royalty) he is a proud example of the Hawaiian race.
After a lifetime of going places to greet people here, on the mainland and abroad as well, the roles were reversed and friends and fans came to meet him. Research turns up the fact that visitors, many of whom can't even pronounce Hawaii, can spell and pronounce "Kahanamoku."
Duke passed away January 22, 1968.
We will always love, honor and remember "The Duke".
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