Duke Kahanamoku


Duke Kahanamoku is one of the most influential athletes in Hawaii’s history. A world champion swimmer and surfer, Duke Kahanamoku actually introduced the world to the royal Hawaiian pastime of surfing. Over the course of his legacy, his name has become synonymous with surfing, swimming, and even beachside dining. His legacy lives on today at The Duke Statue in Waikiki, which taking a photo with is a “must do” for many vacationers in Hawaii.


Hawaii’s “Father of Modern Surfing” was born on August 24, 1890 and grew up just outside present day Waikiki. He spent most of his time swimming and surfing at Waikiki Beach, honing his skills for what would later be a career in the water. Duke Kahanamoku broke his first world record before he was 21 years old.

He shattered the freestyle 100 yd record by over 4 seconds while at an amateur swim meet in Honolulu Harbor. He easily qualified for the 1912 Olympic Swimming Team, and took home a gold in the 100 meter freestyle and a silver in the 4×200 meter freestyle relay at the Stockholm Olympics. In the 1920 Antwerp games he medaled in the same events, but with better results… Both golds. 

His prowess in the water had earned him fame but he remained modest and humble. He toured the United States and the world giving swimming demonstrations. He incorporated surfing into these demonstrations in places like Australia and California. In 1925 while living in Newport Beach, California he aided in the rescue of a sinking fishing vessel for what was called “the most superhuman surfboard rescue act the world has ever seen.” Duke Kahanamoku was the first person to be inducted into the Swimming Hall of Fame and also the Surfing Hall of Fame.

He is a member of the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame, and the Duke Kahanamoku Invitiational Surfing Championship was named after him. Beginning in 1965, it was the first surfing event televised by ABC’s Wide World Of Sports. Duke served the public as a sheriff of Honolulu for nearly 30 years. Duke Kahanamoku died at the age of 77 of a heart attack.

A motorcade and escort of 30 police officers preceded the scattering of his ashes into the ocean, the place he loved most. His memory lives on today with the celebration of the sport of surfing and The Duke Statue found in Kuhio Beach Park on Kalakaua Avenue. 

Duke’s Waikiki a restaurant and bar on Waikiki Beach pays tribute to his legacy with surf memorabilia and merchandise carrying his name. It’s also a great place to relax and watch the surfers out at Waikiki!

Facts & Trivia

  • Island: Famous People
  • Insider Tip: Visit the Waikiki Natatorium War Memorial where Duke Kahanamoku was the first person to swim on it’s dedication, held on his birthday August 24, in 1927. And don’t forget to take your picture with the Statue of Duke Kahanamoku.
  • Fun Fact: The surfboards Duke grew up riding were usually over 15 feet long and weighed upwards of 110 pounds!

Duke Kahanamoku

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