Duke Kahanamoku – One of the Most Famous People of Hawaii

Categorized as Oahu Vacation Information

When you think about famous people of the Hawaiian Islands one of the first names that comes to mind is Duke Kahanamoku, also known as “The Duke.” I am thinking of The Duke now as I sit in my wonderful Oahu Hotel overlooking the beaches of Waikiki where the Duke once surfed the ocean waves.

In his long and glorious lifetime (1890-1968), Duke Kahanamoku was a renowned surfer and an Olympic champion swimmer, and then later in life he was also a movie star and a sheriff.

Duke Kahanamoku was a full-blooded Hawaiian and a descendant of Hawaiian royalty. He was born in Honolulu on August 24, 1890 and was named after his father, who himself had been named after the Duke of Edinburgh. Duke’s family moved to Waikiki in 1891 because Duke’s mother’s family, the Paoas, owned a large portion of the 20 acres of land in the Kalia area (which is now occupied by the Hilton Hawaiian Hotel).

Duke’s grandfather’s name was Hoolae Paoa, and he was a descendant of royal Hawaiian chiefs who had been deeded land by King Kamehameha III in the 1848 Great Mahele when many of Hawaii’s lands were divided.

The Paoa family numbered more than 100 people who all lived in the Waikiki area. They fished and farmed, and Duke’s father taught his children to swim, it was said, by tying a rope around their waist and throwing them in the sea. Duke Kahanamoku soon became one of the most renownn of the Waikiki Beachboys, who were a water sports instructors that worked on the beaches of Waikiki.

Duke and his friends formed Hui Nalu (Club of the Waves) in 1911. This was a surfing, swimming, and paddling club, and was originally formed to satisfy the US requirement that swimmers had to belong to a recognized club in order to get official sanction for any swimming records. Duke then set three world records in freestyle swimming in Honolulu Harbor in 1911.

In the 1912 Olympics in Sweden, Duke Kahanamoku set a world record in the 100-meter freestyle, and then in the 1920 Olympics in Belgium, Duke won two more gold medals, even breaking his own 100-meter freestyle world record. He also helped to set a world record in the freestyle relay, which got him another gold medal. Iin the 1924 Paris Olympics, Duke took the silver medal in the 100-meter freestyle.

Duke Kahanamoku earned a total of six Olympic medals in four different Olympics. He was known for his use of the “flutter kick,” which replaced the more common scissors kick. When he was 42 Duke retired from competitive swimming.

Duke later appeared in about 30 Hollywood movies, and also was Sheriff of the City and County Honolulu for 26 years. He married Nadine Alexander in 1940. Duke was known for his humble and kind demeanor.

Duke traveled throughout the country in 1918 to compete in exhibition races in support of the war effort.

Duke was officially appointed as Hawaii’s “Ambassador of Aloha” in 1960. He passed away at age 77 on January 22, 1968. Thousands of people attended his “Beachboy” memorial when his ashes were placed into the waters of his beloved Waikiki.

When I first arranged my awesome Oahu Vacation Packages I had no idea I would be gaining such a wonderful appreciation of the history of the people of these islands and the great sense of the Aloha Spirit that still exists thanks to the traditions perpetuated by such people as Duke Kahanamoku.