Click to Read! Ambassador of Aloha: Duke Kahanamoku


Born in 1890, Duke Paoa Kahinu Makoe Hulikohoa Kahanamoku was one of nine children of a Honolulu policeman. He was born at Haleʻākala, the “pink house” (home of Bernice Pauahi Bishop) located near ʻIolani Palace (near where Bank of Hawaiʻi now stands on King Street.)

With respect to his name “Duke,” he was named after his father. The elder Kahanamoku was born during the Duke of Edinburgh’s visit to the islands in 1869.

The elder Duke explains his naming as “after I was washed by Mrs. Bishop she gave me the name “The Duke of Edinburgh.” The Duke heard and was glad and came to house and I was presented to him and tooke [sic] me in his arms. And that is how I got this name.” (Nendel)

Duke lived in interesting times in Hawaiʻi; in his lifetime, Hawaiʻi moved from an independent monarchy to full statehood in the United States of America.

Kahanamoku’s family lived in a small house on the beach at Waikiki where the present day Hawaiian Hilton Village now stands. He would never graduate from High School due to the need to help his family earn enough money to live.

Duke Kahanamoku had a very normal upbringing for a young boy his age in Waikiki. He swam, surfed, fished, did odd jobs such as selling newspapers and went to school at Waikiki grammar school.

For fun and extra money he and others would greet the boatloads of tourists coming to and from Honolulu Harbor. They would dive for coins tossed into the water by the visitors, perform acrobatic displays of diving from towers on boat days, and explore the crop of newcomers for potential students to teach surfing and canoeing lessons to on the beach.

He earned his living as a beachboy and stevedore at the Honolulu Harbor docks. Growing up on the beach in Waikiki, Duke surfed with his brothers and entertained tourists with tandem rides.

By the time that Kahanamoku burst upon the world scene in 1911 (at the age of 21,) shattering American and world records in the one hundred and fifty yard freestyle swimming races at an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) sanctioned meet in Honolulu Harbor, sport had become a tool of nationalism used by countries around the world to demonstrate modern manliness and vigor. (Nendel)

He later won an Olympic gold medal in 1912 – a feat he repeated eight years later at the age of 30. In 1924, he won the silver. Overall he won five medals at the various Olympic Games.

Returning to Hawaiʻi as a hero, yet unable to fin