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Duke Kahanamoku


Australia’s known for it’s gnarly waves and surfable beaches, it’s beauty erupting an evergoing flow of tourists from around the world. Surfing enthusiasts flew from far to get a taste of the stuff. In the early 20th century, when the world was still discovering the allure of surfing, Duke emerged as the sport’s virtuoso on Australian shores, picking Freshie as his project. Sure, Duke was no stranger to accolades. Olympic gold medals and a world record for swimming were undoubtedly impressive, but Duke’s real charm was in how he brought Hawaiian culture to the world. Duke’s imprint in Aussie surf culture can be owed to the surfing exhibitions he started. The first being on January 10 1915, with over 400 spectators at Freshwater Beach. 

The Sydney Morning Herald reported:
[Kahanamoku] came out with his surfboard, plunged into the water, and continued to swim out until those watching from the beach wondered when he would stop. After covering nearly half a mile, Kahanamoku turned and prepared for a roller, which came along a moment after; he caught it, and as the wave carried him shorewards, he performed all kinds of acrobatic feats on the board, and finally dived into the water as the roller broke.

Duke plucked 15-year-old swimming coach, Isabel Latham, out from the crowd and onto his huge pine board that day. The two rode tandem – a moment that instantly shifted coastal leisure culture and social mores. Up until barely a decade ago, Latham was believed to be the first Australian to surf the shores. This was debunked by archival surfing shots found at the Australian National Surfing Museum, revealing it was Tommy Walker that carved first. Latham was recognised nation-wide as Australia’s first surfer, even after the earlier discoveries. The problem was that her tale is far more romanticised, and people just couldn’t let that go. 

Duke Kahanamoku, the surfer who made waves on and off the board, is a reminder that we’re all riding the same eternal wave of aloha. 

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