Despite its overwhelming popularity, surfing – a sport native to the Hawaiian Islands – is relatively new to America (and the rest of the world). What kind of ocean enthusiasts would we be if we didn’t take some time to recognize, praise and thank the man that brought the sport of surfing alive.
Duke Kahanamoku – Hawaii’s first “Ambassador of Aloha”, “the human fish”, five-time Olympic medalist, etc. – was the first native Hawaiian to bring he`enalu (surfing) to the United States mainland. Duke was born in 1890 in Honolulu to low-ranking nobles who were in service to the monarchy. His family moved to Kalia, Waikiki when Duke was three and his obsession with the water blossomed. At the tender age of twenty-two Kahanamoku, the once naked kid who would swim through shark infested waters at the Honolulu Harbor in search of silver coins, earned a spot on his first American Olympic Swimming team – the only native Hawaiian present.
Called “The Duke” by mainland sportswriters, Kahanamoku used his athletic notoriety to bring to light the ancient art of surfing – a sport almost unheard of outside of the islands – to mainland American culture. As Duke explains in his autobiography, surfing leaves “you rewarded with a feeling of complete freedom and independence while rocketing across the face of a wave”. Kahanamoku provided surfing demonstrations, with the help of his 16-foot koa wood board sin fins, to both mainland coasts in hopes to bring popularity to the art. He never attained his goal of surfing as an Olympic event, however, by the 60’s surfing had become an important part of everyday American life – popularized by films like “Beach Blanket Bingo”, “Gidget” and the music group The Beach Boys.
Though never consumed by his fortune or fame, Duke was a natural born business man and began lending his name for a generous profit to both Hawaiian and American surfing teams, competitions and gear. Surfer magazine pronounced him as the “Surfer of the Century”.
Duke passed from a heart attack in 1968 and was mourned as the swimming and surfing champion of two cultures. It has been said that the native Hawaiians viewed Mr. Kahanamoku as a fulfilled prophecy once declared by King Kamehameha that “before the native Hawaiian race died out, one man would bring it fame.”
From all those that enjoy the island life and the surfing culture, let us say Mahalo Duke for blessing so many people with your many talents.
If you’d like to surf some of the same waves that Duke enjoyed contact us for an unforgettable experience.