The swimming and surfing star was born on Aug. 24, 1890
Today marks what would have been the 125th birthday of the late Duke Kahanamoku, who during his lifetime was many things including an Olympic swimmer,Lifeguard, Hawaiian public official, surfing champion and ambassador and the spreader of aloha and surfing around the world.
Kahanamoku’s prowess with a surfboard is worth remembering for more reasons than mere athletic glory. As TIME magazine reported back in 1925, Kahanamoku saved lives in Laguna Beach, Calif.:
“Out through the surf, the Thelma, foundered in the surf with a fishing party aboard. The beach crowd watched her careen on the breakers, herded to the water’s edge when the boat capsized. Good swimmers ran splashing out, split the first wave with a dive, plowed off to the rescue. In the lead swam a figure darker than the most deeply sunburned, an Hawaiian duke, Kahanamoku of Olympic fame. Before him, as he swam, he pushed his long surf board.
Five of the capsized fisherman had drowned before the swimmers reached them, but it was no trick at all for Kahanamoku and his followers to buoy up 13 survivors, drag them across their boards, catch a wave and rush their gasping passengers ashore in relays.
In his 1968 obituary, the rescue of the Thelma passengers was credited with helping Kahanamoku recapture the fame of his Olympic days, eventually leading him to his post as sheriff of Honolulu. But, even as he grew older and his role on the shore grew larger, he never stopped surfing. “To the last,” the obituary concluded, “he was a symbol of the islands, surfing, swimming, and appearing as the 50th state’s official greeter.”
Happy Birthday to Duke Kahanamoku.
Fred Hemmings, Chinn Ho, Duke Kahanamoku and Butch Van Artsdalen