Back To Top
Beach Grit

Culture: The Duke in the NY Times!

Derek Rielly

by Derek Rielly

And it's hot with racism and interracial sex!

Surfing got history? Yes it do.

And, it’s fitting, since I’m writing this in a hotel room overlooking Kaisers on Oahu’s South Shore, and with a meeting lined up with the man who invented pro surfing, Mr Fred Hemmings in one hour, that the New York Times just posted a story on the goddamned Duke.

It’s a easy read for anyone who recoils at history and, as is the want of The New York Times, is rich with hollers of racism, the essential wickedness of the white devil and shades of gossip.

Did you know Duke was screwing the hell out of white rich lady Doris Duke (interracial sex!) and they probs had a gorgeous little bebe together, who died after one day?

And that, years later, The Duke died while trying to unlock his Rolls Royce?

Let’s read!

White Devils!

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.”

White devils!

Reflecting the condescension with which Americans of the period viewed Hawaiian culture, Wolfe wrote that Duke had started his career as “one of the brown naked kids” of Honolulu who “swim through the shark infested waters of the harbor in search of silver coins thrown from the docks of the incoming steamer.”
As a Hawaiian, he was not immune from racial prejudice. Arriving once with fellow swimmers at a restaurant in Lake Arrowhead, Calif., he was told, “We don’t serve Negroes.”
Movie star!

Moving to Southern California, Kahanamoku leveraged his fame to play in more than two dozen Hollywood films, as a pirate, bodyguard, soldier, Sioux Indian, Turk, Hindu, Persian, South Sea Islander and other minor characters. (His final on-screen performance was as a native chief in “Mr. Roberts” (1955), starring Henry Fonda and Jack Lemmon.)

Called the “King of all Swimmers,” Duke used his réclame to help weave the ancient art of surfing — little known outside the islands, and fading even there at the time — into mainland United States popular culture. “You are rewarded with a feeling of complete freedom and independence while rocketing across the face of a wave,” Duke explained in his autobiography.

Screwing Doris! 

In the late 1930s, the sheriff fell under the spell of the tobacco heiress Doris Duke, who was building an estate called Shangri La (now a museum) near Diamond Head. In July 1940, she gave birth to a daughter named Arden, who died one day later. Several biographers have argued that the baby was almost certainly Kahanamoku’s.

Three weeks after the birth, his timing perhaps provoked by dread of a public scandal, Kahanamoku married Nadine Alexander, a Cleveland-born dance teacher at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. Doris Duke reportedly lent or gave the newlyweds about $12,000 (now over $200,000), which they used to purchase a house not far from her own.
Dies next to his Rolls Royce!

Although never preoccupied by celebrity or fortune, Duke began lending his name for modest profit to surfing teams, competitions and equipment. One promoter gave him a Rolls-Royce with a surfboard rack on the roof. In January 1968, outside the Waikiki Yacht Club, he was looking for its keys when he was stricken by a fatal heart attack.

Read what’s left of the story here!