Duke Kahanamoku Duke
"Mahape a ale wala'ua," Duke would say.
"Don't talk -- keep it in your heart."

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Thanks to LEGENDARY SURFERS for this biography.
by Malcolm Gault-Williams

Biography: Twilight Years


Under the Hau Tree | Olympic Gold, 1912 | Surfing's Ambassador | Duke Surfs Freshwater, January 15, 1915 | Duke's Mile+ Ride of 1917 | Olympic Gold and Silver | Corona del Mar Save, June 14, 1925 | The Father of Modern Surfing

  In his later life, Duke remained active and traveled throughout the United States as a "symbol of Hawaii." Even close friends forgot that he suffered a serious heart attack in 1955 and that he was treated for a cerebral blood clot and gastric ulcers, in 1962. Timmons cynically wrote, "In the end, fame never brought Duke money, only ulcers."

  When U.S. President John F. Kennedy visited Hawaii in 1962, he walked past many of the island politicians on hand, in order to go right to Duke and meet one of his childhood heroes. "Kennedy was passing curtly along the line of dreary politicians," wrote Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray, "when he suddenly came upon Duke. A big, broad grin spread over the President's features, and the two men... had a long, lively discussion of the crawl stroke and flutter-kick pioneered by Duke."

  A look at the year 1965, when Duke Kahanamoku was 75 years of age, reveals the kind of activities he was involved in: Duke became the first person to be inducted in both the swimming and surfing Halls of Fame. At the Swimming Hall of Fame he was reunited with, amongst others, Johnny (Tarzan) Weismuller and fellow Honolulu swimmer/surfer/actor Buster Crabbe. When the Surfing Hall of Fame was instituted by International Surfing magazine that year in Santa Monica, Duke was the first inductee and most honored. Over 2,000 well-known surfers attended the Surfing Hall of Fame ceremonies on June 17, 1965, at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. They all rose to give Duke a standing ovation as he arrived to take his place at the opening ceremonies. The August/September issue of International Surfing was dedicated to the Duke who was referred to as, "a surfer who by all standards is king." In September 1965, for the third straight year, Duke was the guest of honor at the United States Surfing Championships, held at Huntington Beach, California. The honors kept coming, for in December he was honored with the first Duke Kahanamoku Invitational Surfing Championships, held at Sunset Beach, on Oahu, during excellent wave conditions. That event, which one surf mag called "surfing's greatest competitive event ever," was the first truly professional and prestigious contest ever held in radical and challenging Hawaiian surf.

  The first Duke Kahanamoku Invitational Surfing Championships featured, by invitation, 24 of the world's best surfers and was broadcast on Easter Sunday in 1966 as a CBS Sports Spectacular. Viewership for the program was estimated at between 40 and 50 million people, the largest television audience for a surfing contest up to that time. The TV production of the first Duke Invitational was produced by film maker Larry Lindbergh and the contest's creator Kimo Wilder McVay, and later received a nomination for an Emmy award as the best special sports production aired in 1966.

  Duke kept going. In April of 1966, he and Hawaii surfing champions Paul Strauch, Jr. and Fred Hemmings, Jr. traveled to Houston, Texas, to be honored guests at the first Houston-Hawaii Surfing Week. The next month, Butch "Mr. Pipeline" Van Artsdalen joined them in Southern California for Broadway department stores' "Salute to Hawaii" promotion and tour. It was said to have been, "the biggest department store promotion ever arranged on behalf of Hawaii merchandise."

  During the Southern California tour, Duke and his team of surfing greats made a memorable visit to Malibu. They arrived in a vintage Rolls Royce with surfboards strapped onto its top. The Hollywood-style surfari got national television coverage. With a wink, Duke told the network interviewer, "My boys and I, we showed 'em how to go surfing."

  At age 75, Duke crowned beauty queens; attended banquets; was profiled in Sports Illustrated; helped land a marlin at Hawaii's annual Billfish Tournament in Kona; appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, on TV and Arthur Godfrey's radio show; talked with columnist Walter Winchell; was named an honorary district commodore in the United States Coast Guard; and was the recipient of Hawaii's first Medicare card. On his 75th birthday, The Honolulu Advertiser wrote in a special editorial that, "Few areas in the world have been as blessed as Hawaii with a man like Duke Kahanamoku as a symbol of vigorous achievement and friendly goodwill. "Today, at 75, Duke Kahanamoku has been our best-known citizen for so long that the only real question for history is how big his legend will become. Some of the things bearing his name include a foundation, a beach, a swimming pool at the university, an annual regatta, a restaurant and nightspot, a line of sportswear, a music and recording corporation, a new line of tennis shoes, ukuleles, skateboards and surfboards, a surfing club and an international surfing championship sponsored by the CBS television network. In varying way, each of these attests to the esteem in which this man is held not only throughout our nation but throughout the world."

  But, some said Duke was also, "as unfathomable out of the water as he was fearless in it." His biographer, Joe Brennan wrote that Duke, "seemed to live way down inside himself." Duke, "was not a big talker," wrote Timmons. "He had a mind that saw deeply and in detail, but he was very contained, reticent almost to a fault. Like the vast ocean itself, he seemed for the most part to exist below the surface."

  Sammy Amalu, a notorious Hawaiian con man who later became a newspaper columnist and whose father, Charlie Amalu, was a well-known beachboy, once wrote that no matter the passage of time, Duke never changed. "The Duke was just the Duke. Like Aloha Tower or Diamond Head or the beach at Waikiki, the Duke was always there, just being himself. Just being the Duke." Being in the water made all the difference to Duke. He was the "human fish" and the "father of surfing." His name became synonymous with Waikiki and the term "beachboy." Timmons wrote, "His fame elevated the status of all beachboys. His celebrity contributed to their celebrity."

  Yet, in a professional sense, "Duke was not in the business of being a beachboy," recalled world champion surfer Fred Hemmings. "But in the larger sense of the word -- of a man who lived and loved the ocean lifestyle -- Duke was, as far as I'm concerned, the ultimate beachboy." "He had an inner tranquillity," recalled Kenneth Brown. "It was as if he knew something we didn't know. He had a tremendous amount of simple integrity. Unassailable in integrity. You rarely meet people who don't have some persona they assume to cope with things. But Duke was completely transparent. No phoniness. People could say to you that Duke was simple -- the bugga must be dumb! No way. That's an easy way of explaining that. Duke was totally without guile. He knew a lot of things. He just knew 'em."

Bibliography   TOP

~ Bishop Museum ~ Duke Kahanamoku ~ Fred Hemmings, Jr. ~ Grady Timmons ~ Hawaiian Surfboard ~ The Honolulu Advertiser ~ The Honolulu Star-Bulletin ~ Joe Brennan ~ Kenneth Brown ~ Leonard Lueras ~ Los Angeles Times ~ Rabbit Kekai ~ Snowy McAlister ~ Sports Illustrated ~ Surfing: The Ultimate Pleasure ~ The Sydney Morning Herald ~ Tom Blake ~ World of Surfing

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