The Big Kahanamoku

As we are only a few days away from summer, we felt it only necessary to spotlight some bronzed athletic swimmers. Specifically, today’s focus is Duke Kahanamoku, the grinner to the left, to the left. His brother, Sam, is to the right, and even though he looks identical, his biceps are not as well-formed. So there.

Duke Paoa Kahinu Mokoe Hulikohola Kahanamoku (August 24, 1890 – January 22, 1968) was a Hawaiian competition swimmer who was also known as an actor, lawman, early beach volleyball player and five-time Olympic medalist in swimming. He’s also credited with spreading the sport of surfing (wikipedia).

Those of you readers hailing from Hawaii are probably yawning, familiar as you are with DPKMHK. I’d like to see him fill out the name portion on his Scantron test! But the truth is, most folks have never heard of him. We didn’t even know he had his own stamp! Being from the mainland (U.S.A.), the only Hawaiian I know is “aloha” and the Christmas song, “Mele Kalikimaka,” which I can sing like nobody’s business.

Although not technically a Duke, he was descended from royalty. At this point, I could just type random H and Ks with various vowels to represent the names of his relatives. But to be clear, his parents were from prominent Hawaiian families; the Kahanamoku and the Paoa clans were considered to be lower-ranking chiefs or nobles, of service to royalty. His paternal grandmother Kapiolani Kaoeha was a descendant of King Alapainui.

Seriously. He’s kind of a big deal.

From here on out, let’s call him Duke, or I’m going to get carpal tunnel syndrome. Over 100 years ago, Duke won a gold medal in the 100 meter freestyle in the 1912 Olympics, and a silver with the relay team. During the 1920 Olympics, he won gold medals both in the 100 meters. Four years later, he finished the 100 meters with a silver medal, with the gold going to Johnny Weissmuller and the bronze to Duke’s brother, Samuel Kahanamoku, the one with smaller biceps. When Duke was almost 42, he played for the U.S. water polo team at the 1932 Summer Olympics. Take that, middle age!

When he wasn’t winning Olympic medals, he popularized surfing. At Waikiki Beach, he developed his skills, preferring a traditional surf board, which he called his “papa nui,” constructed after the fashion of ancient Hawaiian “olo” boards, made from the wood of a koa tree. Sometimes he would balance women on his shoulders and ask them to re-enact the “King of the World” Titanic scene, just for grins and giggles.

While living in Newport Beach, California on June 14, 1925, Duke rescued eight men from a fishing vessel that capsized in heavy surf while attempting to enter the city’s harbor. Using his surfboard, he was able to make quick trips back and forth to shore to rescue sailors. Newport’s police chief called Duke’s efforts “the most superhuman surfboard rescue act the world has ever seen.”

Even though his hair went grey, Duke used his magical powers to keep it from falling out, and it continued to entrance the ladies.

Since he couldn’t surf 24/7, he decided to be the sheriff of Honolulu, Hawaii from 1932 to 1961, serving 13 consecutive terms. That’s more than FDR! During his downtime, he also appeared in a number of television programs and films, such as Mister Roberts (1955). Are you feeling lazy yet?

Though he passed away in 1968, this statue in Honolulu assures that he will never be forgotten. A hui hou to you (goodbye, until we meet again)…

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24 Responses to The Big Kahanamoku

  1. wdydfae says:

    I can smell the salt spray, hear the surf pounding in my ears and feel the sunburn when I read this dazzling doozer of a post.

  2. ksbeth says:

    fantastic. i am a huge, huge fan of hawaiian names )

  3. kerbey says:

    Reblogged this on I Don't Get It and commented:

    I invite you to visit The Blog of Funny Names today to learn about The Big Kahanamoku.

  4. Mahalo Kerbey. Love the islands, and the surf. And talk about longevity in a job!

    I wonder if the sailors he saved are still alive today?

  5. Arto says:

    Wow, what a guy. That is definitely the most impressive surfboard-assisted rescue mission I’ve ever heard of. It’s also the only one, but doesn’t diminish it one bit.

    And losing to Tarzan in the Olympics isn’t too big of a shame either. More than likely ended up a good story for his later lady-wooing years.

  6. Benson says:

    Heck of a name for a heck of a man. I wonder what happened to his brother?

  7. markbialczak says:

    I think my name may make them laugh their asses off in Hawaii. Just saying, Kerbey.

  8. Meh. You want some long Hawaiian names? I can give you some long Hawaiian names.

    Consider Janice “Lokelani” Keihanaikukauakahihulihe’ekahaunaele who was in the news because her name did not fit on the Hawaii driver’s license. No joke. They changed the system so now she fits.

  9. Dave says:

    What an awesome story! This is what I love about the BoFN: learning things about awesome heroes like Duke PKMH Kahanamoku!

  10. Duke was quite a man — and I’ve seen his big statue in Honolulu covered with flowers. 🙂

  11. Liz says:

    awesome, Kerbey. Sorry to be so late to your party, but what with the time difference between you, me, and Hawaii, it’s all the same I’m sure. This is what I love love love about BoFN–I learn about things that I didn’t know I needed to know until someone (that would be you) explained things so well. Like your fine Hawaiian swimmers/sheriffs/actors/wooers/rescuers/etc. I can see the appeal and I would be fine squeezing either brother’s biceps if they’d let me. Just as a bicep-appreciation thing because I’m happily married and all that. But I have a bicep thing, really.

    How did you fine these guys? They’re fantastic!

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