7 Things to Learn About the Duke Kahanamoku Statue

Duke Kahanamoku Statue
Hawaii Aloha Travel > Blog > 7 Things to Learn About the Duke Kahanamoku Statue

You can’t visit Waikiki without seeing the Duke Kahanamoku Statue. This festive and welcoming sculpture stands tall at the shores of Waikiki, honoring the famous Hawaiian who rose to fame as a swimmer, a surfer, and the Ambassador of Aloha. 

But there’s more to this statue than meets the eye. Here are 7 things you may not know about Waikiki’s Duke Kahanamoku Statue. 

1. Duke Kahanamoku was more than a surfer.

Duke is called “The Father of Modern Surfing,” but he originally rose to fame as an Olympic Swimmer, earning multiple gold and silver medals between 1912 and 1924. He also acted in Hollywood and later served as Honolulu Sheriff from 1932 to 1961.

2. The Duke Kahanamoku Statue faces away from the ocean for a reason.

Sure, Duke probably spent his days gazing toward the Pacific Ocean, especially since all Hawaiians know not to turn their back to the ocean. But they erected the statue with his back against the sea for one simple reason: the photos.

I talked to Joseph Correa, who helped deliver the statue to Waikiki, and he said that Duke is facing toward the hotels of Waikiki so that when people took pictures, the ocean would be behind the statue.

3. The shape of the surfboard isn’t historically accurate.

We’re not ones to nitpick, but it was interesting to learn about the irregularities that Joseph Correa pointed out to me. The most notable is the shape of the surfboard itself. 

Joseph said the curvature is going the wrong way and should be curving in the opposite direction. 

Some say there should be no curvature at all because the boards Duke used were made of balsa wood and had no curves during that time.

One sign that Joseph is correct? In the early days, there was no wax to keep surfers on their boards. To solve the problem of slipping off the board, surfers would carve scratches into the balsa wood, allowing for a better foot grip when riding waves. 

If you look closely at the Duke Kahanamoku Statue, you’ll see the scratches on the bottom of the board. If Joe’s observations are correct, that means that the surfboard is actually backward, and the scratches are on the wrong side of the board.

4. The statue was unveiled on a special day. 

The Duke Kahanamoku Statue was unveiled in 1990, on what would have been the icon’s 100th birthday. Unfortunately, he passed away in 1968 at the age of 77. 

5. Lei may be damaging the Duke Kahanamoku Statue.

One thing that makes the statue so iconic is the rows of colorful flower lei adorning Duke’s outstretched arms. But over time, so many flowers have caused damage to the statue. The acidity of the flowers wears down the bronze. 

Many people still leave a flower lei on the statue, but the practice is being discouraged more and more due to the damage. 

6. The statue’s location is meaningful.

Duke Kahanamoku grew up in Waikiki and surfed the waters surrounding the neighborhood. The beaches of Waikiki don’t look anything like they did when Duke was a kid at the turn of the 20th century, but his statue is a reminder of the original surfers who made the place so iconic. 

7. Waikiki isn’t the only place with a Duke Kahanamoku statue. 

The surfing icon is also honored with a statue in NSW, Australia. Here, he’s standing on a surfboard, riding the crest of a sandstone rock. Duke Kahanamoku is credited for bringing the sport of surfing to Australia.