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Duke Kahanamoku Statue - Waikiki Beach

Home > Hawaii > Memorials | Free | Beaches | Sport
Published April 19th 2013
Surf while the 'father of surfing' watches
Waikiki Beach is perhaps the world's most famous beach. Over-loved? Indeed. But occasionally places are popular for good reason. This is one of them. Standing tall and bronze, welcoming visitors to the beach, is a statue of Duke Kahanamoku, the 'father of surfing'.

Duke Kahanamoku statue at Waikiki

The form and the location of this monument to Duke - an Olympic champion, Hollywood actor, and honorary sheriff of Honolulu - are fitting: Duke was tall and bronzed. His stomping ground was Waikiki. And in the twilight of his long and active life, he was Hawaii's official greeter, responsible for welcoming dignitaries and celebrities to Honolulu. Contrary to what his name suggests, however, Duke wasn't a royal. Duke was his Christian name, not his title.

Duke's Time and Place in History
Duke lived though an interesting time in Hawaiian history. In his lifetime (August 24, 1890 to January 22, 1968), Hawaii was governed as a kingdom, then as a republic, then as a territory of the United States (US), and finally as the 50th state of the US. Duke was born a Hawaiian subject, but by the time he was ten years old he was an US citizen - which is a very handy thing to be if you exhibit sporting prowess and you seek to enter the world stage.

Surfing at Waikiki

The details that explain how and why Hawaii went from being an independent kingdom to a state of the US are sketchy. Here's a short summary of the circumstances as I understand them: In 1891 (the year after Duke was born) the Hawaiian king died. The king's sister came to the throne, but she soon abdicated under pressure from commercial fractions that were supported by the US Navy. Enter Sanford Dole, pineapple king and founder of Dole Plantation. Dole served as an interim leader of the Republic of Hawaii until the Islands were annexed to the US as a territory in 1898. In 1959 (toward the end of Duke's life) Hawaii was admitted to the US as the State of Hawaii. As simple as that.

Why We Remember Duke
Duke was a water sportsman extraordinaire, and by all accounts, an all round good bloke. He excelled at surfing, swimming, water polo, canoing, and life-saving.

Today Duke is best known for popularising surfing. He's remembered for spreading the spirit of aloha as he travelled the world to demonstrate and promote the sport. A life-sized statue of Duke stands on the northern headland of Freshwater Beach, Sydney to commemorate the day (January 15, 1915) he carved a surfboard from a piece of timber and surfed to a crowd, of thousands, apparently.

The Duke surfing. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

However, back in the early 1900s, Duke was best known for swimming. Over the course of three Olympics (Stockholm in 1912; Antwerp in 1920; Paris in 1924), Duke won five medals (three gold and two silver) in freestyle events.

The most famous beach in the world

How We Remember Duke
Duke is a resident of the Swimming Hall of Fame, the Surfing Hall of Fame, and the US Olympic Hall of Fame. For 20 years he had an annual surfing contest at Sunset Beach named after him (this contest was renamed the Billabong Pro in 1985). Most recently, in 2002, a picture of Duke featured on a US postage stamp - surely the only commemoration to trump this would be to get your head on a coin or a note of currency.

Surfboard hire at Waikiki

You Too Can Remember Duke
1. Learn to surf, perhaps in Adelaide, or in Geelong, or in Perth, or in Melbourne, or on the Gold Coast.
2. Perfect your technique at Australia's best surfing spots, or at the Best surf spots around Melbourne.
3. Pilgrimage to Waikiki to surf like Duke did.
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Why? Waikiki is the most famous beach in the world and surfing is the sport of kings
When: Anytime
Where: Waikiki Beach, Honolulu
Cost: Free
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