Anyone who has every strolled the idyllic beachfront of Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki, has no doubt come face to face with the slightly larger-the-life likeness of one of Hawaii’s most famous celebrities: Duke Kahanamoku (pictured above, second row-center). Located on the makai (oceanside) entrance to Kuhio Beach, the iconic bronze statue of the famous “Beach Boy” stands, with open arms, in front of a towering longboard. Colorful leis are often draped across extended palms.
A world-renowned surfer, outrigger canoe paddler, and Olympic swimmer, Duke Kahanamoku (1890-1968) represents a generation of athletes who dedicated themselves to reviving the relationship between Hawaiians and the ocean. Alongside family and friends, such as Sam and David Kahanamoku, Chick Daniels, Panama Dave, and Curly Cornwell, Duke Kahanamoku led the way back into the waves after the practice had been in decline for a period of about 150 years.
Starting on July 10, The Royal Hawaiian Hotel, in tandem with the Matson Navigation Company, will showcase the Waikiki Beach Boys, a collection of rare, archival photographs taken between the late 1920s and the late ‘40s. Chosen from thousands of snapshots in the Matson collection, 30 photos, as well as a variety of original surf posters will line the walls of the Coronet Lounge in the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. The exhibition will wrap up late December. Admission is free.
From the time Captain Cook landed in Hawaii in 1778, all the way through the early 1900s, Hawaii experienced a turbulent shift in its social and political climate. Christian missionaries urging modesty in dress and various other restrictions frowned on surfing, which had been a long-held Hawaiian practice.
At the turn of 20th century, when surfing had all but faded into history, it suddenly regained momentum, due in part, to an endorsement by writer Jack London. In 1907, when The Call of the Wild writer visited Oahu, he witnessed and then experienced surfing with the help of Alexander Hume Ford and one of the first men to popularize California surfing, George Freeth.
London’s subsequent travel journal, The Cruise of the Snark, depicted a Hawaii brimming with color and sensation. One chapter, A Royal Sport: Surfing in Waikiki, is devoted to London’s first experience in the waves. At the same time, Ford was actively campaigning to revive surfing, petitioning the Queen Emma Estate for a plot of land where surfing and outrigger canoeing could be practiced. Thus, the Outrigger Canoe Club was born. Shortly thereafter, its rival, Hui Nalu or “family of waves” was founded, the dominantly Hawaiian counterpart to its largely haole, or Caucasian rival. Duke Kahanamoku, one of Hui Nalu’s founders, went on to popularize surfing around the world.
Duke’s love for the water became transnational when the Hawaii-born athlete won Olympic medals in swimming and water polo. His surfing demonstrations in Corona del Mar, Santa Monica, and Sydney, Australia were just a few of the many places that grew their surf culture from the seed of the Hawaiian tradition.
These days, surfing is a worldwide sport. No matter if the water is cold, the waves small, or the country landlocked: where there’s a will, there’s a wave. (By the way, today is International Surfing Day. Established nine years ago by The Surfrider Foundation and Surfing Magazine, the holiday an unofficial celebration of the sport and green-minded living.) We're stoked!