Supporters of a postage stamp honoring Duke
Kahanamoku have until July 1 to write to the
Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee.
the Duke on
a U.S. stamp
Attention Hawaii: Grab a penBy Lori Tighe
and tell Washington you want
to see our man on U.S. mail
PEOPLE from around the world used to approach the legendary Duke Kahanamoku on Waikiki Beach, beam up at him and ask, "Do you remember me?"
Kahanamoku would smile and, whether he knew them or not, answer: "How nice to see you again."
George Downing, 69, recalls the Waikiki beachboy lesson in graciousness from Kahanamoku, whom he met at age 14.
Beauty and athleticism, movies and Hollywood, adventure and royalty all touched Kahanamoku. But it didn't matter to him, Downing said, "Not at all."
"He was a humble guy with a chiefly quality. He helped many people and saved many lives without recognition. He said it's a gift to save a life."
Although recognition wasn't important to Kahanamoku, considered the father of international surfing, it matters to his followers. They have rallied for the third time this decade to push for commemoration of Kahanamoku on a U.S. stamp.
And they think the third time will bring the stamp of approval.
"Our chances are good. I think we will accomplish this," said Don Gallagher, with the Washington, D.C., chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, an international group that fights for clean water and public access to beaches.
"All that's needed is a write-in campaign," Gallagher said. He means the warm and personal kind: no e-mails or phone calls, but rather letters of what Kahanamoku means to people.
"He deserves it. He should have been honored with this long, long ago," Gallagher said.
The deadline -- July 1 -- fast approaches for the public to mail letters to the Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee of the U.S. Postal Service.
The U.S. Postal Service receives 50,000 requests a year to commemorate someone on a stamp, said Darryl Hatheway, chairman of the Washington, D.C., chapter of the Surfrider Foundation. "It's hard to make the Elvis cut."
But the Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee, which includes actor Karl Malden, notified the Surfrider Foundation it would reconsider Kahanamoku again for a stamp. It will make its decision after July 1.
"I think it's the recognition of Hawaiian culture, Duke's heritage and the spirit of the Olympics which allowed Duke to travel around the world to introduce surfing," Hatheway said.
Memorializing Kahanamoku on a U.S. stamp was the final achievement wanted by his widow, Nadine Kahanamoku, said Earl Pa Mai Tenn, who represented her for years. She died in 1997. The Kahanamokus, Honolulu's unofficial "first couple," were married 37 years.
"I'm really sad she's not alive to see this come to fore," Tenn said.
The late U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater and author James A. Michener supported the Kahanamoku stamp in the early 1980s. The Hawaii Legislature passed a resolution for the stamp in 1990, Tenn said.
Born in 1890, Kahanamoku won a gold medal for the United States and set a world record in the 100-meter freestyle at the Stockholm Olympics in 1912. The handsome Hawaiian traveled by ship to the mainland East Coast, Australia, New Zealand and France for a decade, introducing surfing to the world.
He acted in many movies, became friends with John Wayne, director John Ford, Arthur Godfrey and Shirley Temple.
He did the Ed Sullivan show. He served as sheriff of Oahu and later as Hawaii's official greeter. He helped numerous children's charities, including Easter Seals.
He died in 1968 of a stroke at age 77, childless but with legions of fans.
"I look up to the man. When you see him standing tall next to his surfboard, he symbolizes all that's good and true about surfing and embodies the aloha spirit," Gallagher said. "No one else means that to so many people."
Above and beyond his character and accomplishments, Kahanamoku was a man of the ocean.
"He had a lifelong love affair with the ocean. His mistress was the ocean," said Fred Hemmings, a member of the Duke Kahanamoku Surf Team and close friend, especially in the last years of his life.
They often lunched together at the Outrigger Canoe Club, which presented Kahanamoku, then in his 70s, with a 13-foot-long surfboard meant as a showpiece.
"We had lunch, and Duke said, "Hey Freddy, go get my surfboard. I want to go out.'
"I thought, what's he going to do with it, it's like an aircraft carrier? He got a cushion and a paddle, and rowed it out like a canoe, which takes a tremendous amount of skill."
"He caught a few waves," said Hemmings, who wrote Kahanamoku's biography "The Soul of Surfing is Hawaiian." He's worked 10 years for a Kahanamoku stamp.
"He saw some good waves and he wanted to ride them."
Cards, letters or petitions for a Kahanamoku stamp must be mailed by July 1 to:
Where to write
Attn: Duke Kahanamoku
Citizens' Stamp Advisory
c/o Stamp Development
U.S. Postal Service, 475 L'Enfant Plaza, SW, Room 4474E
Washington, D.C. 20260-2437