Duke Kahanamoku OTD

August 10, 2022
A photo of a beach in Tahiti

August 11, 1911

Duke Kahanamoku

The “father of surfing” sets a world record, bursting onto the international scene on the road to Olympic gold — and bringing Hawaii’s native sport along with him.
“Surfing is the greatest thrill of my life.”

Duke Kahanamoku began his swimming career when he broke the world record for the 100-yard freestyle at an amateur swim meet on August 11, 1911. The three-time Olympic gold medal swimmer is even credited with introducing the flutter kick. Despite his prowess in the pool, his real love was his surfboard. Many credit him with bringing surfing from Hawaii into the mainstream and onto the "mainland."

Beyond the Water

  • Kahanamoku's career expanded to acting in Hollywood films. He acted in more than two dozen movies.
  • After his acting career, he began a new career in politics and served as Honolulu's sheriff for more than 25 years.
  • He was also Honolulu’s official greeter and welcomed movie stars, politicians, and even royalty to the island.

Duke Kahanamoku asked the International Olympic Committee to add surfing to the Olympic Games over a century ago. It wasn't until last year that his dream became a reality: surfing made its debut at the Tokyo Olympics, with 40 surfers competing for the gold.

The Paris 2024 Olympics will continue to feature surfing but with a twist: the competition will take place nearly 10,000 miles away in Teahupo'o, Tahiti. The French Polynesian island, which translates to "Wall of Skulls," is known for some of the biggest and most dangerous waves in the world.

What happened on August 11, 1911

Read his Jan. 23, 1968 New York Times obituary

More on Duke: Duke of Hawaii: A Swimmer and Surfer Who Straddled Two Cultures

For Paris Olympics, Surfing Will Head to Tahiti’s ‘Wall of Skulls’ (New York Times, March 2020)

by Jenna Lee,