Icons: The Duke
A masterful surfer, swimmer and fearless hero, Duke Kahanamoku is considered the father of modern surfing. Born in Hawaii in 1890, Duke grew up swimming and surfing at Waikiki Beach. He would go on to win multiple Olympic gold medals and ignite a passion for surfing wherever he went. While circling the globe for swimming exhibitions, Duke would add a dose of surfing to his performance. As his fame grew, he eventually became the offical greeter for digintaries and celebrities arriving in Honolulu, welcoming both JFK and the Queen of England to his birthplace.
The Duke was famous for his tandem surfing displays. In 1914, he crafted a board from a local sugar pine in Freshwater Beach, Australia and used it to tandem surf with Isabel Latham, making her the country's first surfer.
Duke began breaking world records at his amateur swim meets. In 1911 he bested the record for the 100 meter freestyle by 4.6 seconds. He would go on to win gold medals in both the 1912 and 1920 Olympics. The Salt Lake Tribune article above attributes his skill to the fact that he "dodged sharks for sport" as a boy.
The Duke in lane 5 at the Olympic Games in Antwerp, Belgium in 1920.
Duke eventually moved to California in the 1920s, taking up residence in Newport Beach and performing as a background character in several Hollywood films. It was during this time that he rescued 8 men from a fishing vessel that capsized in Newport harbor under turbulent surf. Newport's police chief deemed the act, "the most superhuman surfboard rescue act the world has ever seen."
Taken during World War II, this photos shows Duke alongside a group of silver trophies for a surfing tournament on Wakiki Beach.
Duke preferred surfing with huge wooden boards made in the ancient Hawaiian tradition. He called his board, which measured 16 feet and weighed 114 pounds, "papa nui."
The Duke gracing US Postal stamps released in 2002.
The Duke Kahanamoku Invitational, held at Sunset Beach, Oahu, became an international event in 1965 and the leading big wave event of its time. Upon Duke's death in 1968, his ashes were scattered at his beloved Waikiki Beach.