Originally published on August 10, 2012
In keeping with the month and its aquatic nature, this week features one of the lesser known American Olympic athletes, but one who has had a massive influence on American culture and sport more than any other Olympian.
Duke Kahanamoku competed in the 1912 Olympics, winning a gold medal in swimming [Yes, just "swimming" and not butterfly, freestyle, breaststroke, etc. Swimming competitions weren't as rich and various as they are today]; he came back to the Olympics eight years later and, at the age of 30, won his second gold medal.
Chiefly, though, he is recognized as the father of surfing and, as such, is featured as a statue in Huntington Beach, California [see above] and a mural in Ocean City, New Jersey [see below]. That's really all that matters to me, but much more can be read about The Duke here, here, and here. The story of his rescue of sailors from a sinking boat is worth reading, as it explains why California lifeguards to this day use surfboards as one of their rescue tools. [A practice that's beginning to take hold in the eastern USA, too.] It also represents the qualities of self-sacrifice and compassion for which Duke was known that informed traditional, pre-commercialized surfing, as his nature and character offer what's best about the very odd sport and spirituality of surfing.
[You can find the menu from one of the many restaurants that bear his name here. I just thought I'd mention it as I'm having a craving for some huli chicken.]
Update: Since this was posted almost four years ago, a fine biography of Kahanamoku has been published.