Episode 52 Feature: Duke Kahanamoku Ambassador of Aloha

Hawaii Posts
Hawaii Posts
Episode 52 Feature: Duke Kahanamoku Ambassador of Aloha

Duke Kahanamoku: The Ambassador of Aloha (written by Thomas E Gaupp)

Duke Paoa Kahinu Mokoe Hulikohola Kahanamoku, known simply as Duke Kahanamoku, was a Hawaiian icon whose legacy extends far beyond his impressive athletic achievements. Born on August 24, 1890, in Honolulu, Hawaii, Duke’s life journey would lead him to become an Olympic swimmer, lifeguard, sheriff of Honolulu, and a revered figure known as the “Ambassador of Aloha.” This podcast highlights and explores Duke Kahanamoku’s remarkable life, his achievements as an Olympic swimmer, his dedication to water safety as a lifeguard, his public service as a sheriff, and his enduring role as an ambassador of Hawaiian culture.

Duke’s rise to fame began in the realm of sports, particularly in swimming. He first gained international recognition during the 1912 Summer Olympics held in Stockholm, where he won the gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle event and set a world record. This victory marked the beginning of Duke’s legacy as an Olympic swimmer. He continued to shine in subsequent Olympics, winning more medals and breaking records. Duke’s contributions to the sport were not just limited to his competitive achievements; his innovative swimming techniques, such as the flutter kick, revolutionized the way swimming was approached and laid the foundation for modern swimming styles.

Beyond his sporting triumphs, Duke Kahanamoku’s commitment to water safety and public service was exemplary. As a skilled swimmer and surfer, he recognized the importance of safeguarding lives along the coastline. Duke’s expertise led him to become a lifeguard on the beaches of Waikiki, where he was credited with saving numerous lives. His dedication to protecting others from the dangers of the ocean earned him respect and admiration, making him a beloved figure in his community and beyond.

In 1925, Duke Kahanamoku demonstrated his heroic nature, when he saved eight men from a capsized fishing vessel off the coast of California. This incident showcased his exceptional swimming skills, his deep concern for the well-being of others, and his dedication to water safety.

The event took place near Newport Beach, California, on June 14, 1925. A fishing vessel named the Thelma had encountered rough waters and strong currents, causing it to capsize and leaving its crew members stranded in the ocean. Upon learning about the distress call, Duke, who was visiting California at the time, immediately sprang into action.

Without a second thought, Duke grabbed his surfboard and swam out to the turbulent waters. His mastery of the ocean and years of experience as a lifeguard allowed him to navigate through the challenging conditions with confidence. As he reached the stranded men, one by one, he skillfully positioned them on his surfboard and began paddling back to the shore.

Duke’s athleticism, strength, and knowledge of the ocean proved vital in successfully rescuing all eight men. His calm demeanor and unwavering determination provided reassurance to the crew members, who were undoubtedly shaken by the ordeal. Through his heroic efforts, Duke not only saved lives but also reinforced his reputation as a true waterman, someone who possessed an intimate connection with the sea and a profound commitment to preserving life along its shores.

This rescue further solidified Duke Kahanamoku’s legacy as a hero and a symbol of water safety. His actions went beyond the realm of sports and showcased his dedication to protecting human life, regardless of the circumstances. The story of Duke’s daring rescue serves as a reminder of the impact one individual can have when guided by a strong sense of duty, compassion, and expertise.

In 1932, Duke’s sense of duty extended to public service as he was appointed as the Sheriff of the City and County of Honolulu. He used his position to promote safety, justice, and fairness within the community. Duke’s approachability, kindness, and commitment to upholding the law made him a sheriff who was deeply respected by both locals and visitors alike.

However, Duke Kahanamoku’s impact extended far beyond his athletic achievements and public service roles. He became a symbol of Hawaiian culture and the embodiment of the “Aloha Spirit.” Duke’s warm and welcoming demeanor, along with his genuine interest in connecting with people from all walks of life, earned him the title of the “Ambassador of Aloha.” He traveled the world, sharing the spirit of Hawaii and its values of harmony, kindness, and hospitality. Duke’s cultural diplomacy helped spread the beauty of the Hawaiian way of life, making him a unifying figure in a rapidly changing world.

In conclusion, Duke Kahanamoku’s life story is one of exceptional achievement, dedicated service, and cultural enrichment. From his groundbreaking accomplishments as an Olympic swimmer to his vigilant efforts as a lifeguard and his public service as a sheriff, Duke left an indelible mark on his community and the world. His legacy as the “Ambassador of Aloha” remains a testament to his ability to bridge cultures, foster understanding, and embody the spirit of Hawaii. Duke Kahanamoku’s life serves as an inspiration to us all, reminding us of the power of athleticism, leadership, and cultural exchange in shaping a brighter future.

If you want to see Duke Kahanamoku the man and the story, I encourage you watch the 2021 movie Waterman

I was delighted to find it as a selection for inflight entertainment on a recent Hawaiian Airlines. I watched and was moved to tears and fist pumps of joy. The movie gave me chicken skin. Not only as an admirer of duke,but it captures the essence of a true waterman and and his story is told in a compelling way with historic film of Duke in the water on land and as a star and guest on the many movies television shows he appeared. 

Directed By Isaac Halasima written by Scott Elder and Josh Harmon

Narrated by Jason Momoa and many interviews with Kelly Slater, Kai Lenny, Fred Hemings, Laird Hamilton, Carissa Moore archive footage with Johnny Wiesmuller, Ralph Edwards many more and of course Duke himself

WATERMAN (2021) Here is the the trailer: https://amzn.to/3OQdjBs

Songs used in the episode include

Benjamin Rogers – Radio Hula, Kaehuokalani,

The Maile Serenaders – Nani Ko ‘olau, Ulule E

The Waikiki Beach Boys – A Duke Kahanamoku Presents – Hui nalu

You can find these songs and more on my Apple Music Playlist 

If you need help finding the movie I have a link for you  LINKS:

WATERMAN (2021) https://amzn.to/3ONPP03

Duke Kahanamoku Surf Contest 1965 https://amzn.to/47Hg5BQ. 1966 https://amzn.to/3P6y8tU. 1968 https://amzn.to/45kaUpW

Benjamin Rogers:

Maile Serenaders: https://amzn.to/45mHCqx

The Waikiki Beach Boys: