Thursday, September 22, 2011

Duke Kahanamoku - The Original Surfer Dude!

Out of the water, I am nothing." - Duke Kahanamoku

Obviously, that wasn't at all true of this pioneer of the art of surfing; but it is that mindset that makes Duke, to me and many others, an ultimate Dude; and arguably the original and most recognizable Dude of all time! Yes, he was a five time Olympic medalist in swimming (3 Gold, 2 Silver in 3 Olympics; 1912,1920,1924), an actor, lawman and early beach volleyball star, but it was his bringing surfing from his native island of Hawaii to mainland California that truely gave him, and gives him today "Dude" status! Born Paoa Kahinu Mokoe Hulikohola Kahanamoku (August 24, 1890 - January 22, 1968), - Dude! - he took on the name Duke from his father who was given the title himself by a European dignitary who was visiting the Hawaiian Islands when Duke, not known as Duke, was just a boy. Confused? Me too!
Many have thought, over the years, with the name Duke, he must be of Hawaiian Royalty, something he used to laugh about. He never went out of his way to say or act like he was more than what he was. His humble, mellow, approach to life(attributes he learned from his very religious mother), even after all his accomplishments , also makes him a great Dude in my book! There are many of stories of which island, and city, Duke was actually born on, but his answer is always the same, Honolulu, where he and his six brothers, three sisters and 31 other Paoa cousins (dude!) all learned to swim and, most important, surf. As a young boy he moved to the outskirts of Waikiki to stay close to his mother and family, and this is where  Kahanamoku spent his youth as a bronzed beach dude.

It was at Waikiki Beach where he developed his surfing and swimming skills. In his youth, Kahanamoku preferred 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 (What? No Clark Foam?). It was 16 feet (4.8 m) long and weighed 114 pounds (52 kg)....dude! Throw that up on mom's station wagon and watch her scream! The board was without a skeg (fin), which had yet to be invented. In his later career, he would often use smaller boards, but always preferred those made of wood. His Qlympic fame and world record swimming times made him an international figure and he traveled the world promoting swimming, surfing and I like to think, dudeism!

As if he hadn't done enough to be considered one of the greatest dudes of all time, in 1925, while living in southern California, he again generated national fame by using his surfboard to rescue eight people from a boat that had capsized in Newport Harbor, California. Lifeguards throughout California, Australia and the world soon added the use of surfboards as a key part of their water safety training; a practice they still use today! The dude does it again! Amongst his many accomplishments he was also the first person inducted into both the Swimming Hall of Fame and Surfing Hall of Fame.
He is also in the Olympic Hall of Fame, has many events, statues and venues named in his honor including the title of "Surfer of the Century" by
Surfer Magazine as well as other organizations and periodicals. Along with all those awards, I would personally like to name him now as one of, if not the greatest dude of all time! Duke "Dude" Kahanamoku....dude.

"In water, or out of water, Duke, you were something!" - Keith Poletiek

Who is your ultimate dude? Let us know! Become a Follower of this weekly blog by Keith Poletiek directed at searching out, finding and sharing all things dude!

Keith is an award winning cartoonist and creator of "Dude and Dude" a daily comic strip distributed worldwide by Universal Uclick for United Feature Syndicate at

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