The Duke Kahanamoku Story

The Ultimate Waterman

Swimmer. Surfer. Legend. His life represents far more than his unprecedented accolades in and on the water. Duke introduced the world his sport and to the Hawai’ian way of life, a way of being in the world that is still alive and relevant today.

Key Facts

  • Inducted into Swimming, Surfing, and U.S. Olympic Halls of Fame
  • 6-time Olympic medalist in a career spanning four Olympiads over two decades
  • Popularized surfing around the world

Meet Duke:

Lifesaving Hero

Duke’s heroic surfboard rescue of 8 drowning men – pulled one-by-one from their capsized fishing boat in surf so heavy it closed the harbor channel off Corona Del Mar, CA – is the stuff of legend. Except it was real. Newport’s police chief at the time called his efforts “the most superhuman surfboard rescue act the world has ever seen” and it forever changed the way U.S. lifeguards approach ocean rescues.

Honored Leader

Hawai’i’s native son, Duke served as Sheriff of Honolulu, where he was re-elected to his post 13 times. He was instrumental in achieving statehood and was later appointed the new state of Hawaii’s Official Ambassador of Aloha in 1960. Today, Waikiki – and the statue dedicated there on the centennial of his birth - represents a sort of mecca for those who continue to honor Duke, his contributions to the world, and his spirit of aloha.

Movie Star

Taking up residence in Los Angeles, Duke taught surfing in Malibu, worked as a lifeguard, and competed in water sports. During this time, Duke appeared in over 30 Hollywood movies, bringing his natural glamour and physical presence to the screen. He used this celebrity to help establish Southern California a water-sports mecca.

Ambassador of Aloha

Duke was born in Honolulu into a world that valued integrity, respect, and harmony. A life in which giving and sharing was essential. Duke came to represent this distinctly Hawai’ian culture – the Spirit of Aloha – with open arms welcomingly extended, sharing its ideals with people all around the world.

Olympic Champion

A swimmer of unprecedented natural talent, Duke burst onto the scene by crushing world records by 4.6 seconds in his very first swim race in Honolulu harbor’s open waters. His Olympic career was equally phenomenal: spanning two decades, four Games, and six medals.

Father of Modern Day Surfing

Surfing his trademark 16-foot, 114-pound koa wood board, Duke cut a commanding presence with the legendary accomplishments to back it up: once riding a monster wave for 1 1/8 miles at Waikiki, the longest in modern times. His fame attracted people to his sport, helping introduce and popularize surfing across the world.

Highlights of a Remarkable Life

Born in Honolulu on August 24th, First of nine children of Duke Halapu and Julia Paoa Kahanamoku. His father was named by Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop in honor of the arrival of England’s Duke of Edinburgh in 1869. Duke was also named for his father so his family called him by his middle name – “Paoa”.

Grows up on outskirts of Waikiki; Member of Kamehameha School’s championship soccer team. Develops surfing and swimming skills; prefers traditional surf board constructed from native koa wood – 16’ long and weighing 114 pounds.

Broke 3 freestyle world records by 4.6 seconds in his very first swimming races in Honolulu Harbor.

Won 2 Olympic medals in Stockholm – setting the record for the gold in the 100-meter freestyle and winning silver with the US freestyle relay team.

Introduced surfing to the U.S. Atlantic Coast, Australia and New Zealand.

Helped popularize swimming and surfing in the U.S., especially in Southern California.

Swam in exhibitions in 30 mainland cities to raise money for the war effort.

Won 2 more Gold Medals for swimming in the Antwerp Olympics — 100-meter freestyle and U.S. freestyle relay team. Recommended surfing as an Olympic event.

Silver Medalist in the Paris Olympics, 100-meter freestyle.

Lived in Los Angeles and played in 30 Hollywood movies. Helped make Southern California a water-sports mecca.

Heroic surfboard rescue of 8 drowning men at Corona Del Mar, CA. Newport’s police chief at the time called Duke’s efforts “the most superhuman surfboard rescue act the world has ever seen.” It also caused U.S. lifeguards to begin using surfboards in their water rescues.

Rode a monster wave for 1 1/8 miles at Waikiki – considered the longest ride in modern times.

At age 42, won a Bronze Medal as an alternate on the U.S. water polo team in the Los Angeles Olympics. His Olympic career spanned 20 years.

Served as Sheriff of Honolulu. Re-elected 13 times.

Official U.S. Representative at the Melbourne Olympics.

Appointed the new state of Hawaii’s Official Ambassador of Aloha.

Official guest at the Tokyo Olympics.

First person to be inducted into both the Swimming and Surfing Hall of Fame.

Died in Honolulu on January 22 followed by a Waikiki Beachboy funeral.

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC.

Posthumously inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame.

Statue dedicated at Waikiki on the centennial of his birth.

Statue dedicated at Freshwater, Sydney, Australia. Biarritz, France Surf Festival named in his honor. Duke’s name inscribed in the Huntington Beach Surfer Walk of Fame.

The United States Postal Service releases a limited edition firstclass postage stamp depicting a young Duke Kahanamoku in Waikiki.

Duke’s Day inaugurated by Freshwater Surf Lifesaving Club to honor Duke and the environment.

Duke Kahanamoku Beach has been named as the #2 beach in America.