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Tuesday, 16 September 2008

The Life of Duke Kahanamoku

As a result of our poll "Who is the most influential surfer of all time" , we promised to provide profiles on the top 3 surfers as voted by you. Not surprisingly Duke Kahanamoku received the most votes so our first installment on Dukes life was published 2 weeks ago. Heres the second and final installment in this mans fascinating life:

The young Duke grew up and surfed in a time before modern plastics, resins and fibre glass were a reality and he preferred to ride traditional boards based on ancient Hawaiian finless "olo" board designs. His board was made of Koa tree wood and was sixteen feet long and weighed in at 114 pounds. Not the easiest of boards to handle but paddling the heavy log clearly assisted with his swimming strength because in 1911, Duke beat the 100 yard freestyle swimming world record by a huge 4.6seconds in Honolulu harbour

From here it was an smooth transition for Duke to qualify for the U.S. Olympic swimming team in 1912. He went onto compete in three games, breaking world records and winning numerous gold and silver medals in the process. It was during this time that Duke went on to tour the world, swimming in exhibitions in the US mainland, Europe and Australia. Whilst travelling he also gave surfing demonstrations which drew huge crowds. George Freeth was credited with introducing surfing to the USA and California in 1907 but it was Duke who fanned the flames to create a blaze of interest in waveriding. Also in 1914 Duke visited Sydney and gave a surfing exhibition at Freshwater beach- surfing in Australia was born!

Inbetween winning Olympic medals and introducing surfing to the world, Duke had a sideline as a Hollywood film extra even appearing alongside John Wayne in one of his movies. Duke was also a member of the Los Angeles Athletic Club and was involved in the swimming, waterpolo teams and lifeguarding. In 1925 he made a daring rescue of 8 men at Newport beach harbour in heavy seas after a fishing vessel capsized. 17 men lost their lives that day but it would have been more if it wasnt for Duke and 2 other surfers saving lives using their boards to assist the rescues. Since that day surfboards have become a common tool of a lifeguards trade.

After spreading the spirit of Aloha throughout his time, Duke Kahanamoku was welcomed home as an ambassador of the Hawaiian way of life. He was recognised as a true waterman and honoured with the position of Sheriff of Honolulu and later as the official greeter for the Islands. Shortly before Duke died in 1968, the Sunset beach Duke Kahanamoku surf competition became an International event and the worlds premier big wave event.

Dukes influence on modern surfing was unparalleled and is unlikely to ever be surpassed.

For more on surfing history visit

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