Friday, May 22, 2009

The Duke



On the short list of the koolest kats who have ever lived is Duke Kahanamoku—Olympic swimming champion (medaling in events from 1912 to 1924), surfing legend, and the ranking royalty on Waikiki Beach during the post-War golden years in the 1940s and 50s. Go to Duke’s Restaurant & Barefoot Bar at the Outrigger Waikiki and you’ll see walls of photos of the Duke with JFK, Will Rogers, John Wayne (wannabe Duke in Hawaii), Shirley Temple, Amelia Earhart, Ed Sullivan, and just about every celebrity from the period, along with other shots with his surfing buddies and calabash family of greater Honolulu.

At Kuhio Beach Park in the heart of the hubbub is a bronze statue of the Duke, his muscular arms outstretched as a greeting of Aloha to all. Farther down the beach is the War Memorial Natatorium, a 100-meter pool encased by an Art Deco structure, built in his honor in 1927 as part of a bid for the Olympics. The games never came, but Duke and fellow swimming great Johnny (Tarzan) Weissmuller put on a show there.


Duke’s family owned 40 acres in Waikiki where the Hilton now stands, and a cozy beach park is named in his honor. The Kahanamoku’s didn’t get rich on the deal, but the Duke was the kind of rich that is beyond money. With all the hoopla, he was man without apparent ego. “Try meeting or leaving people with Aloha,” Duke said. “You’ll be surprised by their reaction. I believe it and it is my creed. Aloha to you.”