Dedicated to Duke: New stamp honors Hawaiian hero

Duke Kahanamoku stamp

Hawaii’s greatest
sportsman earns his
stamp in history

Dedicated to Duke
Hawaii's Ambassador of Aloha
Lifetime of highlights

By Craig Gima

His life is the stuff of legend ... the father of international surfing, Olympic hero, a friend to kings and movie stars.

Yet, at heart, Duke Paoa Kahanamoku was a simple man who loved the ocean and Hawaii and shared his love with the world.

There are two native Hawaiians on U.S. postage stamps. One is King Kamehameha. The other, starting today, is Duke Kahanamoku.

In a modern era, when sports heroes are at times tarnished by excessive ego and scandal, here is a humble hero, who lived his life with aloha.

Kahanamoku, born 112 years ago today, learned to swim and surf in old Waikiki.

He went on to a lifetime of achievements that included winning six Olympic swimming medals; introducing surfing to Australia, Europe and the U.S. mainland; saving eight men from a sinking boat near Newport Beach, Calif.; and helping promote Hawaii as a tourist destination.

He was a striking figure — a full-blooded Hawaiian — tall, muscular, dark and handsome. Even into old age, people were struck by his grace and presence.

He had large feet, which some speculated might have helped propel him through the water with such speed.

Those footprints left their mark in the sands of Waikiki and the sands of history.

Duke Kahanamoku runs through Waikiki Beach surf in this photo taken in the late 1920s.

Below, a gold medal Kahanamoku won in world-record time in the100-meter freestyle at the 1920 Olympic Games. In all he won six medals in four different Games from 1912 to 1932.




1. With Johnny Weissmuller at the 1924 Paris Games. Weissmuller bettered Kahanamoku's world records there.

2. Readies for a race in an undated photo.

3. With wife Nadine on June 15, 1962. The 71-year-old Kahanamoku had surgery to remove a cerebral clot on May 21, 1962.

4. A 1999 cover of Surfer magazine.

5. Kahanamoku's board at Bishop Museum's Waikiki exhibit.

Lifetime of highlights

Aug. 24, 1890: Born in downtown Honolulu to Duke and Julia Kahanamoku.

1911: Breaks three world records in freestyle swimming in Honolulu Harbor.

1912: Wins gold medal and sets world record in 100-meter freestyle and a silver medal in 4x200-meter freestyle relay at the Stockholm Olympics.

1913: Introduces surfing to U.S. eastern seaboard.

1914-1915: Introduces surfing to Australia and New Zealand.

1915-1932: Helps popularize swimming and surfing in California.

1917: Rides a huge wave on his 16-foot surfboard for more than a mile off Waikiki Beach.

1920: Wins gold medals in 100-meter freestyle and 4x200-meter freestyle relay in the Antwerp Olympics. Member of U.S. water polo team that places fourth.

1922-1930: Appears in 30 movies while living in Los Angeles.

1924: Wins silver medal in 100-meter freestyle in the Paris Olympics.

June 14, 1925: Rescues eight people from drowning following a boating accident near Newport Beach, Calif.

1932: Wins bronze medal as member of U.S. water polo team in the Los Angeles Olympics.

1934: Elected sheriff of City and County of Honolulu. Re-elected 12 times, serving until 1960.

Aug. 2, 1940: Marries Nadine Alexander.

1960: Officially appointed as Hawaii's Ambassador of Aloha.

1965: Becomes first person inducted into both the Swimming Hall of Fame and Surfing Hall of Fame.

Jan. 22, 1968: Dies at age 78. Ashes scattered off Waikiki in a "beach boy" funeral ceremony witnessed by thousands on Jan. 27.

1984: Inducted into U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame.

Aug. 24, 1990: Statue dedicated at Waikiki Beach on the 100th anniversary of his birth.

July 17, 1997: Nadine Kahanamoku dies at age 97 without seeing her dream of a stamp honoring her husband.

1999: Named Surfer of the Century by Surfer magazine.

Source: Duke Kahanamoku stamp committee, Star-Bulletin archives and

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