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Duke Kahanamoku

The Duke's Legacy

Duke Kahanamoku suffered a fatal heart attack at the Waikiki Yacht Club and died on January 22, 1968. His death marked the passing of a world-class athlete in swimming and surfing who also served as a vital link to Hawaii's past.

In 1984 Kahanamoku was posthumously inducted into the U.S. Olympic Committee Hall of Fame. In 1990 his widow led efforts to have a statue of Kahanamoku dedicated on Waikiki Beach. The figure showed a nine-foot Kahanamoku with a surfboard facing away from the ocean with his arms outstretched in a welcoming embrace. Nadine Alexander Kahanamoku also supported efforts to set up the Outrigger Duke Kahanamoku Foundation, a public trust devoted to funding youth athletic activities and traditional Hawaiian sports. These activities continue to promote the ideals expressed in Kahanamoku's life while preserving his culture's heritage for future generations.

The Beloved Duke of Waikiki

The newspapers called him "the Bronze Duke of Waikiki," and his biography was subtitled Hawaii's Golden Man. Twenty-two years after his death, Duke Kahanamoku remains Hawaii's greatest athlete. The state has just concluded a month long celebration of its native son that culminated in the unveiling of a statue on Waikiki Beach….

Kahanamoku "has been to [surfing and swimming] exactly what Babe Ruth was to baseball, Joe Louis to boxing, Bill Tilden to tennis, Red Grange to football, and Bobby Jones to golf," wrote Red McQueen in The Honolulu Advertiser shortly before Kahanamoku's death at the age of 77. "He has been Mister Surfer and Mister Swimming rolled into one incredible giant of a man."

Source: Gullo, Jim. Sports Illustrated, September 17, 1990.

Kahanamoku is still regarded a generation after his death as Hawaii's best-ever athletic champion. His five Olympic medals also rank Kahanamoku as one of the greatest athletes in the history of the modern Summer Olympic Games. If not for his efforts to promote surfing, it could well have become a cultural relic of Hawaii's past. Instead, Kahanamoku popularized the sport around the world and in doing so, helped to preserve a part of his culture's history.

Additional topics

Famous Sports StarsExtreme SportsDuke Kahanamoku Biography - A Hawaiian Childhood, Olympic Star, Chronology, Awards And Accomplishments, The Father Of Surfing