The Legendary Duke Kahanamoku


Duke Paoa Kahanamoku was born in 1890, one of nine children of a Honolulu policeman.

Duke was named after his father who was given the name by Bernice Pauahi Bishop. The elder Duke explains his naming as “Mrs. Bishop took hold of me and at the same time a salute to the Hawaiian flag from the British Battleship in which the (Prince Albert) Duke of Edinburgh arrived”.

“… after I was washed by Mrs. Bishop she gave me the name ‘The Duke of Edinburgh.’” (The Duke of Edinburgh was visiting the Islands at the time (July 21, 1869.))

“The Duke heard and was glad and came to (the) house and I was presented to him and tooke me in his arms. And that is how I got this name.” (Nendel)

Both were born at the Paki property in downtown Honolulu. The Paki (Pauahi’s parents) home was called Haleʻakala (the ‘Pink House,’ made of coral.)

A couple years after Duke’s birth (1893,) the family was living in a small house on the beach at Waikiki where the present day Hawaiian Hilton Village now stands.

Duke had a 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; he would never graduate from high school due to the need to help his family earn enough money to live.

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. (Nendel)

Duke’s love of surfing is what he is most remembered. He used surfing to promote Hawaiian culture to visitors who wanted to fully experience the islands.

Through his many travels, Duke introduced surfing to the rest of the world and was regarded as the father of international surfing.

Back at home, the beach and subsequent lagoon near where he lived now carry his name.

Ownership of the Waikiki property by the Paoa family goes back to Kaʻahumanu as noted in testimony before the Land Commission on December 16, 1847 (LCA 1775:)

“I hereby state my claim for a section of irrigation ditch. I do not know its length – perhaps it is two fathoms more or less. The length of my interest at this place is from the time of Kaahumanu I, which was when my people acquired this place, and until this day when I am telling you, no one has objected at this place where I live.”

“The houselot where we live is on the north of the government fence at Kalia. Some planted trees grow there-five hau and four hala. There is a well which is used jointly.” The Royal Patent for the claim was awarded to Paoa on December 7, 1870 (Royal Patent No. 7033) (Rosendahl)

In 1891, the ‘Old Waikiki’ opened as a bathhouse, one of the first places in Waikiki to offer rooms for overnight guests. It was later redeveloped (1928) as the Niumalu Hotel. Henry J Kaiser bought it and adjoining property and started the Kaiser Hawaiian Village.

The shoreline area was filled and is considered State-owned land. A 1955 lease allowed Kaiser’s Hawaiian Village to dredge and fill areas – in the process the 4.6-acre Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon was created in 1956. To the east of the lagoon is the crescent-shaped Duke Kahanamoku Beach. (In 1961 Kaiser sold to Hilton Hotels.)

Initially, the Territory of Hawaiʻi constructed the ‘Crescent Beach’ project by dredging and filling the nearby ocean shoreline; most of the material that now makes up the banks of the lagoon originated from that project (the beach and lagoon were built at the same time.)

Duke Kahanamoku Beach was named the Best Beach in the list of annual ‘Top 10 Beaches 2014’ by Stephen Leatherman, a.k.a. ‘Dr. Beach.’ Kahanamoku Beach had the number two spot on Leatherman’s list the year before and has been on the top 10 list often.

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