Every year in Hawaiʻi, events are held to celebrate the life of Native Hawaiian Duke Kahanamoku and to honor his Aloha spirit and achievements in surfing and other water sports.
About Duke Kahanamoku
Hawaiian royalty were the first surfers in Hawaiʻi. In 1895 and 1890, Prince David Kawānanakoa and Jonah Kūhiō Kalanianaʻole introduced surfing—riding ocean waves on long wooden boards—in California and Great Britain, sometimes joined on their trips by other aliʻi (royalty). However, Duke Kahanamoku is called the “Father of Surfing” because he helped popularize the sport of surfing around the world.
One of nine children, the Native Hawaiian was born in Honolulu on August 24, 1890. Duke lived much of his early life in Kalia, near the present day site of The Ilikai Hotel in Waikīkī. So, it’s no surprise he took to the water.
He was a humble and grateful man of great character, admired for his sportsmanship on and off the water. To raise morale and money for the U.S. war effort in World War I effort, Duke toured the country to raise money for war bonds.
An avid surfer, Duke loved “longboards”, cut from koa trees near his childhood home, measuring up to 16 feet and weighing 140 pounds. In 1929, Duke surfed a wave at Waikīkī for 1-1/8 miles, considered one of the longest rides known.
He became one of the world’s fastest swimmers. As an Olympian swimmer in the 100 meter freestyle and 4×200 freestyle relay, Duke earned medals in 1912 (Gold and Silver), 1920 (two Gold), and 1924 (100m Silver).
Among his other achievements, “The Duke” worked in over two dozen Hollywood movies. Credited roles included “Mister Roberts (1955),” “Wake of the Red Witch (1948)” and “Lord Jim (1925),” plus many others, always in “native” roles. But he played himself in several documentaries and in a 1957 television episode of “This is Your Life.”
Duke Kahanamoku was sheriff of Honolulu from 1934-1959, until the Hawaiʻi became a state and the position was abolished.
In 1940 at the age of 50, Duke married Nadine Alexander, originally from Cleveland, Ohio. Nadine was a dance instructor at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. The couple had no children.
Duke Kahanamoku died of a heart attack January 22, 1968, at the age of 77. Five days later, people lined the streets on a rain-spattered day as a motorcade made it’s way through Waikīkī. Thousands of people watched from the beach and a fleet of small boats gathered as the canoe carrying Duke’s ashes paddled out from shore. Waikīkī Beach Boys scattered his ashes along the shore break in aloha to the beloved Hawaiian.
Duke’s wife, Nadine Kahanamoku died in 1997 at the age of 92. Her ashes were scattered at First Break to join her beloved husband.
A statue of Duke Paoa Kahanamoku is on Kūhiō Beach in Waikīkī, as well as New York, Australia, and New Zealand. He has also been inducted into the Swimming and Surfing Halls of Fame, and the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame.
In 2021, the original documentary film “Waterman” will be in theaters by the end of the year, following surfing’s first-time inclusion in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games—an idea first proposed by Duke a century ago. The 90-minute film features interviews and commentary from surfing’s biggest stars, including newly-crowned Olympic gold medalist Carissa Moore of Hawaiʻi. “Waterman” chronicles Duke’s life through rare footage and contemporary visuals, exploring the legacy of the legendary swimmer, trailblazer, and undisputed father of modern-day surfing.
In Hawai’i we greet friends, loved ones and strangers with Aloha, which means with LOVE.
ALOHA is the key word to the universal spirit of real hospitality, which makes Hawai’i renowned as the world’s center of understanding and fellowship.
Try meeting or leaving people with ALOHA. You’ll be surprised by their reaction.
I believe it and it is my creed. ALOHA to you.
–Duke Paoa Kahanamoku
Duke’s OceanFest is an ocean sports festival held each summer in honor of famed waterman Duke Kahanamoku. The event coincides with Duke’s birthday, August 24th. The event has grown into a weeklong celebration of ocean sports and competition in the aloha spirit on the shores of Waikīkī.
The festival takes place at venues throughout Waikīkī. There are events for amateurs, pros, and tandems. Competitions include an ocean swim, paddleboard races, surfing contests, beach volleyball, and many more. There are events for keiki and for physically challenged athletes. Animals can compete, too!
Duke’s OceanFest is a non-profit organization whose mission is to share Duke’s celebrated life and the sports he loved. Part of the proceeds go to The Outrigger Duke Kahanamoku Foundation in support of their local grant and scholarship program.
The Outrigger Duke Kahanamoku Foundation
The Outrigger Duke Kahanamoku Foundation (ODKF) is a nonprofit organization founded in 1986 to perpetuate the spirit and legacy of Duke Kahanamoku. The Foundation awards grants and scholarships to Hawaiʻi students, teams, and events that focus on the sports Duke played and loved: Swimming, Surfing, Canoe Paddling, Kayaking, Diving, Water Polo, Sailing, and Volleyball.
In 2002, ODKF initiated Duke’s OceanFest to coincide with the new U.S. Postal Service commemorative stamp honoring Duke Kahanamoku.
In 2008, the ODKF Board of Directors founded the Hawaii Waterman Hall of Fame to honor Hawaiiʻs exceptional watermen (and women) in ocean sports including swimming, paddling, ocean voyaging, and others.
More info: Hawaiʻi Waterman Hall of Fame page
Duke’s Day 2021: celebrate Duke’s 131st Birthday on August 24
Because Dukeʻs OceanFest will not take place in 2021, everyone is invited virtually to celebrate Duke’s 131st Birthday on August 24 by sharing an activity that inspires you the way Duke inspired so many others.
So, go surfing or swimming, get on a paddleboard, or otherwise enjoy the ocean and share Aloha! Post your photo or video on social media with the tags #DUKESOCEANFEST and #DUKESDAY2021 and @DUKESOCEANFEST.