Olympic Champion Was Hawaii’s “Ambassador of Aloha”

One of the most famous Hawaiians of all time is Duke Kahanamoku, a legendary waterman, Olympic gold medal winner, Honolulu Sheriff and Hollywood movie star.

The famous Duke Kahanamoku statue in Waikiki.

A muscular man, standing 6 feet, 1 inch tall, Duke had a soft-spoken demeanor and was known for his kindness and humility. He was also a master surfer and famous for saving many people’s lives in the ocean.

When Duke Kahanamoku surfed Waikiki in 1905 he began the rebirth of Hawaiian surfing.  Duke continued surfing big waves until the age of 50 and was still considered Waikiki’s best canoe steersman at age 60.

Duke Kahanamoku’s Olympic Achievements Includes World Records

Duke earned a total of six Olympic medals (three gold and two silver, one bronze) in four different Olympics, setting a world record in the 100-meter freestyle in the 1912 Olympics in Sweden.

Duke then won two more gold medals in Belgium in 1920, breaking his own 100-meter freestyle world record and earning another gold medal in the freestyle relay in world record time. Duke was known for his use of the “flutter kick,” that he utilized rather than the common scissors kick.

From 1922 to 1933 Duke was a Hollywood movie star appearing in about thirty movies. Then he served as Honolulu Sheriff for thirteen consecutive terms totaling 26 years.

Duke Plants Tree in Historic Grove on Kauai’s Coconut Coast

On one visit to Kauai Duke planted a coconut tree in the famed coconut grove at the Coco Palms resort on Kauai’s east side.

The two thousand tree coconut grove was originally planted in 1896 and Coco Palms owner Grace Guslander often had celebrity guests (e.g., Duke Kahanamoku, Bing Crosby) plant replacement trees and then honored the person with a plaque in the coconut grove.

Duke Shares His Aloha With Kauai

In 1935 when Duke was Honolulu Sheriff he sent a redwood surfboard, the type being used in Waikiki at the time, and presented it to the 12-year old Kauai surfer Hobey Wichman (who later changed his name to Hobey Goodale to honor his late father).

Goodale’s grandfather was Charles Rice, a Kauai legislator and community leader whose home was on Kalapaki Beach where the Kauai Marriott is located today.

As the surfboard was being made Duke sent a letter to young Hobey telling him, “Surfing is a sport equal to none in this world. It is in a class by itself and if one starts as young as you have, it will make you a healthy and clean young man and the exercise you get out of it will come in handy in your later life. I owe my swimming strength to surfing and from what your grandpa tells me, you are quite an expert.”

Soon the varnished redwood board arrived aboard an inter-island steamer. About nine feet long and four inches thick at the back, the board had been shaped with Duke’s guidance by Waikiki Beachboy Peter Makia. “Everybody wanted to try my board,” said Goodale.

Goodale and his friends surfed the board for years at Kalapaki. Goodale joined the army in 1945 and left Kauai and the surfboard was lost in the 1946 tsunami.

Duke Officially Designated as Hawaii’s “Ambassador of Aloha”

It was just a formality when Duke was named Hawaii’s official “Ambassador of Aloha” in 1960 as everyone knew he had lived his life spreading Hawaii’s aloha to the world and had always been an exemplary ambassador of the aloha spirit and someone who personified aloha. 

If you happen to be walking along the beach in Waikiki look for Duke’s statue and the plaque that states Duke’s official creed:

“In Hawai‘i, we greet friends, loved ones or strangers with aloha, which means with love. Aloha is the key word to the universal spirit of real hospitality, which makes Hawai‘i renowned as the world’s center of understanding and fellowship. Try meeting or leaving people with Aloha.  You’ll be surprised by their reaction. I believe it and it is my creed. Aloha to you.”

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