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SURFING SAGE. Duke Kahanamoku faced discrimination and financial problems with determination and perseverance. By the end of his 20-year Olympic career, he was a six-time medal winner. Beloved for his modesty, sportsmanship, and amazing skill in the water, Duke remains a legendary waterman and is an inspiration to many.

From The Asian Reporter, V19, #18 (May 5, 2009), page 15.

An inspiration

Surfer of the Century: The Life of Duke Kahanamoku

By Ellie Crowe

Illustrations by Richard Waldrep

Lee & Low Books, 2007

Hardcover, 48 pages, $18.95

By Josephine Bridges

When Duke Kahanamoku was four years old, he "learned to swim in the old Hawaiian way. His father and uncle took him in an outrigger canoe, tied a rope around his waist, and tossed him into the ocean." The rest is sports history ó a story author Ellie Crowe and illustrator Richard Waldrep present wonderfully in Surfer of the Century: The Life of Duke Kahanamoku.

Born in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1890, Duke Kahanamoku participated in the newly-formed Hawaiian Amateur Athletic Unionís (AAU) first competition, a swim meet, two weeks before his 21st birthday and "shattered three long-standing AAU freestyle swimming records." When skeptical officials invited him to the mainland to try out for the U.S. Olympic team, "reporters described Duke as a strange-looking, dark-skinned native from distant lands. People stared at him. Restaurant waiters pretended not to see him."

Unaccustomed at first to the freezing water in the wintertime Pittsburgh stadium, Duke got a cramp in his leg and was unable to swim, but the following day broke two world records. When the 1912 Olympic Games were held in Stockholm, Duke missed his first race because he was trying to catch up on sleep lost in the nearly 24 hours of daylight of the Swedish summer. His rival, Australian Cecil Healy, refused to swim unless Duke was given another chance, and Duke won his first gold medal, setting an Olympic record for the 100-meter freestyle race.

Back in the U.S., "although public beaches and pools on the mainland were mostly closed to people of color, Dukeís exhibitions were a first step toward integrating these facilities."

The 1916 Berlin Olympics were cancelled due to World War I, but Duke won two gold medals in the 1920 Antwerp Games. "By the end of his Olympic career in 1932 at age forty-one, Duke had won three gold medals, two silver medals, and one bronze."

He was an inspiration in more ways than as a great athlete. "To Duke surfing was a way of life, and one day in 1925 in Southern California he proved that surfboards could also save lives." When Duke saw a fishing boat capsized by a huge wave, "he paddled out into the raging ocean and dragged four drowning fishermen onto his surfboard." He and his friends rescued 12 people that day.

Duke Kahanamoku died in 1968. He will be remembered not only for his athletic prowess, but also for his "kindness and modesty, good sportsmanship, and love of life." He overcame a number of obstacles in his lifetime, but one remains for his admirers: "Dukeís dream, yet to be fulfilled, was that one day surfing would be an event in the Olympic Games and that surfers would compete for Olympic gold in the thundering ocean waves."

The author and illustrator of Surfer of the Century have done a great man justice. What higher praise could there be?

To buy me, visit these retailers:

Powell's Books

  Amazon