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Driving in the bustle of downtown Honolulu, it is hard to imagine over 100 years ago one of the best watermen on the planet lived on the busy corner of King and Bishop streets. Duke Paoa Kahinu Mokoe Hulikohola Kahanamoku was born in 1890 at his family home. Duke was named after his father, who originally received the name “Duke” by a member of Hawaiian Royalty, after they received a visit from the Duke of Edinburgh.
Kahanamoku spent his youth growing up on the outskirts of Waikiki (where the Hilton Hawaiian Village now stands). It was at Waikiki Beach where he and his brothers developed their love of surfing and swimming. Unthinkable today, Duke surfed boards constructed in the style of the traditional ancient Hawaiians. These massive surfboards were made of wood, were sixteen feet long and weighed about 100 lbs. As if it wasn’t challenging enough, these huge heavy boards had no fins.
Duke’s athletic abilities were unmatched as he won countless amateur swim meets in Honolulu. He went on to become a member of the US Olympic team, winning 3 Gold and 2 Silver medals. Between Olympic competitions, Kahanamoku traveled to Australia and California to give swimming and surfing exhibitions. It was during this period that he dazzled spectators and popularized the sport. Thus becoming the “Father of Surfing.”
Sadly Duke passed away in 1968, but his rich legacy lives on. I encourage you to pay homage to his statue in Waikiki. It showcases Duke standing in front of his surfboard with his arms outstretched. Many honor him by placing leis on his statue. I would then suggest a stroll over to Duke’s Canoe Club & Barefoot Bar to enjoy the ocean view and historic surfing photos of Duke and his brothers. Raise a glass to the surfers in the same Waikiki waves the Duke himself made famous and toast this true Hawaiian waterman that “Surfer Magazine” hailed as the surfer of the century.