Duke Kahanamoku and the History of Surfing in Hawai’i.








 There are many reasons to love Duke Kahanamoku, the father of modern surfing. Watch here as he breaks his own Olympic swimming record in Antwerp, Belgium. Or maybe you’ve seen him in one of his starring Hollywood roles back in the 1930s. Maybe you’ve eaten at Duke’s restaurant, or surfed at Duke’s beach? Maybe you know that he was the Sheriff of Waikiki or that he was the guy who gave surfing to the world!

Or maybe you don’t know all that.

Surfing: The Ancient Sport of Hawaiian KingsDuke surfing

Ancient Hawaiians perfected board riding. Tahitians did it in a way, but the Hawaiian people, who descended and became very distinct from the Tahitian people changed it. They made longer boards, they developed style and technique, and they made it the exclusive sport of the ali’i. The high ranking or royal people of ancient Hawaii. For nearly a thousand years, this amazing sport belonged to the Hawaiian people alone. When Captain Cook came to Hawai’i in 1793, he and his men witnessed it and wrote about it. When missionaries came and gained too much control in the next century – they tried to ban surfing all together – but with no success. The main reason seems to have been that they were scandalized by nude Hawaiian surfers (they also created mumus to cover the Hawaiian women). In the 1870s, King Kalakaua made a determined effort to bring back surfing, hula, and other Hawaiian traditions that the uptight missionaries had tried to ban.

Surfing Gets Some Fans – Duke Goes Olympic

Duke

In the early 1900s, a few visitors would try their hand at board riding. It’s said that both Mark Twain and Jack London gave it a try. It’s also probable that King Kalakaua got Robert Louis Stevenson to give it a try a bit earlier. In the early territorial days, the visitors who came to Waikiki would mostly watch the locals ride the waves. One of the best surfers at this time was also one of the best swimmers – Duke Kahanamoku. His full name was Duke Paoa Kahinu Mokoe Hulikohola Kahanamoku, and Duke wasn’t a title. Duke surfed Waikiki on a 16 foot board that weighed 114 pounds. He qualified for the U.S. Olympic Swim team in 1912 and proceeded to break nearly every world record for events he competed in. There was only one swimmer who ever beat him – Tarzan – the actor Johnny Weismuller.

Duke Gives Surfing to the World

From this time until his passing, Duke traveled the world for swim meets and surfing exhibitions. He introduced surfing to California and the Gold Coast of Australia. It took off in both spots. Duke moved to Newport Beach, California where he worked as a lifeguard and popularized the sport further. While he was there, he acted in film and television. He didn’t have big speaking roles, but he was a heart throb none the less.

Sheriff of Waikiki

 

We like to say that Duke was the Sheriff of Waikiki – but actually, he was the Sheriff of Honolulu. He served 13 consecutive terms in the elected role.  He died in 1968 but his memory lives on forever. Surfers today still pay homage to him at statues and monuments dedicated to him around the world. In Waikiki, his statue on Duke’s Beach off of Kalakaua Avenue is nearly constantly draped in leis put there by admirers.

Anyone who has ever been lucky enough to ride a surfboard, owe’s a debt of gratitude to Duke Kahanamoku.

Duke kahanamoku