Duke Kahanamoku, who won a total of five swimming medals in Olympics from 1912 to 1924, probably did more than anyone else to bring the sport of surfing from his native Hawaiian islands to the United States mainland. Almost in reverse, he also played a substantial part in the Americanization of old Hawaii.
Born in Honolulu in 1890, descended from patrician ancestors who counseled the Hawaiian monarchy, he grew up near Waikiki Beach as the son of a police captain. Duke was a child when Queen Liliuokalani was thrown under house arrest and Hawaii transformed, by aid of the United States Marines, into Uncle Sam’s territory.
With no outward hint of resentment toward those who had seized and subjugated his country, Duke sought and won a place on the American swimming team at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, the only Hawaiian present. The Philadelphia Inquirer sportswriter Edgar Forrest Wolfe (who used the pen name Jim Nasium) pronounced Kahanamoku in 1913 “a human fish” and “the greatest swimmer the world of sport has ever seen.”
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