Duke Kahanamoku
Duke Kahanamoku

Surfing is coming to the Olympics in 2020.

But the seed of the idea of surfing as an Olympic sport was planted, apparently, in 1912 by the Johnny Appleseed of surfing, Duke Kahanamoku.

According to the International Surfing Association (ISA), the swimming legend who won three golds and two silvers across three Olympics and 13 years, Kahanamoku “first presented his dream at the 1912 Summer Olympic Games in Stockholm, where he expressed his wish to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to see Surfing included in the Games.”

Fernando Aguerre

In fact, this little historical footnote was the inspiration for the current head of the ISA, president, Fernando Aquerre. The surfer from Argentina was newly elected to the ISA in 1994, and according to Olympic.org, he had a dream to get surfing into the Olympics. In fact, Aguerre met Juan Antonio Samaranch, in 1995, part of his pitch was to give the then 75-year-old president of the IOC a surfing lesson in his office.

Unfortunately for Aguerre, what was true in 1912 was also true in 1995 – the IOC was not ready to hang ten.

“We had paddled out but there were no waves,” Aguerre said (in reference to his meeting with the IOC). “We kind of figured out that waves were going to come at some point but we didn’t really know when they were going to come because they were out of our control.”

Still president of the ISA, and still hanging on to his dream, Aguerre opened up his options by connecting with Thomas Bach in 2013, who was a candidate to become the head of the IOC. And by this time, Aguerre was more able to lay out a vision for why surfing needed to be in the Olympics – the need to attract youth to the movement with the rise of action sports. Bach, who was elected to head the IOC that year, made the attraction and retention of youth to the Olympic Games part of his platform.

Surfing has grown significantly in popularity over the recent decades. There were only 32 member countries of the ISA in 1995, but now there 100. So when surfing was submitted to the IOC in September 2015 as a part of a shortlist of new events for Tokyo 2020, primarily driven by youth-oriented action sports like skateboarding and sport climbing, surfing finally caught a wave. In August, 2016, the IOC voted surfing into the Olympics.

Come July 2020, if you want to watch the first Olympians set Olympic records with every top score in surfing, then plan to bake on the hot sands of Tsurigasaki Beach in Chiba, Japan. That is where the surfing world, Barney and pro alike, will gather.

Surfing Hokusai waves olympic rings

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Johnny Weissmuller swimming

There are sports heroes and there are true heroes.

Duke Kahanamoku was a three-time Olympian when he was in Los Angeles on June 14, 1925, saw a yacht overturn in the choppy waters, dove into the ocean and ended up saving 12 people, 8 solely on his own.

Two years later, Johnny Weissmuller, who took over Kahanamoku’s champion mantle a the 1924 Paris Olympics, was able to match the great Duke’s heroism on Lake Michigan in Chicago. On July 28, 1927, Weissmuller and his brother, Peter, were on the choppy waters of the lake training for an upcoming Chicago River Marathon race. Johnny was in the water while Peter was in a row boat following along, coaching and encouraging.

On this particular day, the winds were whipping up, and the bright and sunny day suddenly turned dark and stormy. Unfortunately, a double decker excursion boat called The Favorite was on the water carrying 71 passengers, and was unable to handle the sudden appearance of a “squall with cyclonic force, accompanied by heavy rain”, as Weissmuller biographer, David Fury noted.

Powerful winds quickly tossed passengers from the top deck into the roiling waters. As the boat rolled violently side to side, it took on so much water that the lower decks were plunged under the surface. The brother’s Weissmuller rowed to The Favorite as fast as they could. When they arrived, they were surprised to see the catatonic face of the captain, who sat in a chair on the top deck, holding the hand of a child, clearly in no state to do anything. The brothers in contrast, dove into the dark water to find passengers. They both brought up two children each. At that stage, Johnny barked out for his brother to start reviving the survivors, and that he would go in and bring up others.

According to Fury, Johnny repeatedly dove into the water in search of passengers, primarily women and children, eyes burning, lungs burning. In the end, the brothers pulled up and treated over 20 people. While 27 of the 71 passengers died in this calamity, the Weissmuller brothers alone saved eleven.

Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan
Maureen O’hara, John Sheffield, Johnny Weissmuller and Cheeta

Heroes to the city of Chicago, the brothers viscerally understood this was nothing to celebrate. They received their recognition with solemn appreciation. But as is often the case when lives are saved, we often forget there are implications beyond time for such bravery.

Thirty five years later, Johnny Weissmuller received a letter from a woman he did not know.

I have seven children and one day, my seven children will have their young ones. This circle of life will continue forever or as long as God grants this earth to remain fertile within the atmosphere. But only you, Mr. Weissmuller, are responsible for this vast miracle that has come to touch my life, because it is you who rescued me from certain death, and enabled me o marry and have my children. I shall always impress upon the minds of my young ones to say a prayer of thanks on your behalf and, god willing, these prayers will last through a part of eternity.

Johnn Weissmuller En route to Paris aboard the S.S. America
Johnn Weissmuller en route to Paris aboard the S.S. America

At the 1924 Paris Olympics, Johnny Weissmuller was the star of stars. He finally stared down his only perceived rival, Duke Kahanamoku by swimming to an Olympic record and winning gold in the 100-meter race. Weissmuller added gold medals in the 400-meter freestyle and the 4×200 freestyle relay, and aa bronze medal on the American water polo team.

Adding to Weissmuller’s already growing fame, he was afforded an opportunity that modern-day athletes would never even contemplate. Perhaps foreshadowing his Hollywood roles as Tarzan in 12 feature films, Weissmuller partnered with teammate diver Harold Stubby Kruger in a vaudeville-like show they would perform between races or events.

According to Weissmuller’s autobiographer, David Fury, in the book Twice the Hero, the two athletes performed comedy diving routine, where Weissmuller would perform dives in the proper form, and Kruger, in clown make up, would follow with horribly, but apparently hilarious versions of those dives.

As Fury wrote, “these exhibitions were so popular with the fans and had so many encores that they were banned at all future Olympic Games!”

After these 1924 Paris Olympics, Weissmuller was world famous, a brilliant future assured. But to Family Weissmuller, this may never have happened, if not for a secret well kept.

For the all American Johnny Weissmuller was not, technically, an American.

Rumors that Weissmuller was not born in American were in the air as he prepared for the 1924 Olympics, so much so that Olympic officials requested legal proof of Weissmuller’s citizenship, according to the book, Tarzan, My Father, written by Weissmuller’s son, Johnny Jr.

In fact, Johann Weissmuller was born in Freidorf, a town in Eastern Europe which was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which is now in Romania. Since Weissmuller was not an American citizen, the family believed they had to do something to ensure their boy wonder would fulfill his destiny in Paris. And so a secret plot was hatched. Here’s how Johnny Jr told the story:

Johnny Weissmuller with brother Peter, ages 3 and 2
Johnny Weissmuller with brother Peter, ages 3 and 2

But as the Paris Games drew nearer, Olympic officials told Dad that he needed to produce legal proof of his citizenship (his mother’s sworn statement was not enough) in order to obtain an American passport. My father and Grandmother Elizabeth (with the full concurrence and connivance of Uncle Pete) then hatched a plot to switch his official birthplace from Chicago to Windber, Pennsylvania.

Back then, in the baptismal records of Windber’s St. John Cantius Catholic Church, there was an entry for my father’s younger brother, Petrus. Today, that entry records the baptism of my father. “Petrus Weissmuller” is written in one hand, but “John” has been inserted between “Petrus” and “Weissmuller” in a distinctly different ink and penmanship. Church officials, to this day, aren’t sure when or how the record was altered.

The brothers, in order to solidify the deception, switched names and birth certificates: Peter, though always called Pete, claimed form the late 1920s until his death in 1966 that his “real” name was John Peter Weissmuller and that he was a Romanian born in 1904. My father alleged from 1924 onward that his true name was Peter John Weissmuller and that he was born in Pennsylvania in 1905. I have in my possession Uncle Peter’s certificate of U.S. citizenship, which lists his former nationality as Romanian. Peter, of course, was born a U.S. citizen in Windber in 1905, but – having switched birthplaces with my father in 1924 – he became the foreigner and, of necessity, the “older” brother.

As Fury explained, if Weissmuller had known years earlier, he could have easily attained American citizenship. All he would have needed to do at that time was take a citizenship test and recite an oath. But Weissmuller’s son admitted that hiding this falsity was a burden to the lighthearted Olympic champion his entire life.

Dad was very happy and very proud, but he was also very nervous. Thoughts about the possible results of the scam that he and his mother had perpetrated haunted him his entire adult life. He worried that they would take away his medals, prohibit him from ever competing in the Olympics again, publicly disgrace him, and possibly destroy his personal and professional lives.

Weissmuller took his secret to this grave. But neither his secret, or his legend died with him. Like more recent birther controversies in US history, Johnny Weissmuller’s was, in the end, a non issue.

Johnny Weissmuller and Duke Kahanamoku
Johnny Weissmuller and Duke Kahanamoku

In the summer of 1921, Johnny Weissmuller broke the world record for the 100-yard event in open water. The previous owner of that record was Duke Kahanomoku, the amazing Hawaiian swimmer who won five medals over three Olympics spanning the years 1912 to 1924.

As Weissmuller won race after race, and broke record after record, the lanky, broad-shouldered boy from Chicago was building a reputation for invincibility. No one could beat him as he crossed over into 1922. But many at the time believed that, until he defeated the champion from the 1920 Antwerp Olympics, Duke Kahanamoku, Weissmuller would not be considered the fastest swimmer in the world.

At the end of June, 1922, a faceoff was looking very likely as the AAU National Championships were being held off the beaches of Honolulu Hawaii, where Kahanmoku lived. And the press, according to David Davis, in his well-written biography of Duke, called “Waterman“, were licking their chops in anticipation of this battle of the titans.

The newspapers played up their differences. Duke was symmetrically muscular with a powerful upper body and thighs that seemed custom-made for springs. Johnny had “wide shoulders, flat belly, no hips or buttocks, long, slender, smooth-muscled legs and arms,” according to sportswriter Paul Gallic. Duke was a pure sprinter; Johnny was versatile enough to win at distance events up to 500 meters and at other disciplines besides the freestyle. Duke was old school: reserved and circumspect. Johnny was jazz age: he liked to play the rogue and was an inveterate skirt chaser…. The anticipation that Duke, the human fish, would face off against Johnny, the human hydroplane, was keen.

Johnny Weissmuller and Duke Kahanamoku 2In the end, the public did not get to see Kahanamoku swim against Weissmuller in the AAU National Championships. Weissmuiller was there. The Duke, he was there. But only Weissmuller entered the pool.

According to Weissmuller’s coach Bill Bachrach, in David Fury’s biography of Weissmuller – Twice the Hero – Kahanamoku wisely pulled out of the competition, with some prompting by Bachrach himself. The coach said he gave Kahanamoku his stopwatch and time him himself.

Bachrach sent Johnny into the 25-yeard Punahou pool, and he swam at his top speed as the Duke timed him for 100-years. Kahanamoku was stunned as he watched Johnny swim faster than the Duke had ever done, confirmed by the stopwatch held by his own trembling hand. There was fear in the Duke’s heart, because he knew if he raced on the morrow he would be beaten by this relative newcomer to the swimming wars. The next day, all newspapers announced that the Duke had taken ill, and had left Honolulu to recuperate.

The flip side of this battle of egos was that Kahanamoku never intended to compete in the AAU event. According to members of the Kahanamoku camp, the Duke was actually in poor health, having lost some 10 kilos and was in no condition. And apparently, he was readying for his departure to Los Angeles. According to Davis, Olympic track sprinting champion, Charlie Paddock was adamant that Kahanamoku was not afraid of Weissmuller. “Duke did not quit the swim game because of Weissmuller. He quit because of personal reasons, one of them being that it is necessary to work to make a living, and you cannot work while traveling around the country swimming as an amateur.”

Of course, another consideration is that Kahanamoku was 14 years older than Weissmuller, and whose prime years went untested as the 1916 and 1920 Olympics were cancelled. So if Kahanamoku did decide to dance around possible encounters with the young and future king, it would not be hard to understand.

Regardless, whether you were Team Weissmuller or Team Kahanamoku, you had to wait until the 1924 Olympics before the two would go head to head. And as the two stood at the edge of the pool, just prior to the finals of the 100-meter sprint, Duke is reported to have offered this win-win proposition: “Johnny, good luck. The most important thing in this race is to get the American flag up there three times. Let’s do it.”

At the end of the race, only Americans stood on the winner’s podium, the crowd saluting two of the century’s greatest champions.

 

Sgt Pepper cover

 

If you were on the eclectic cover of the Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, you were likely a giant in your field. Carl Jung, Lenny Bruce, George Bernard Shah, Sonny Liston, Marilyn Monroe were among the 50+ people on that epic montage with the Beatles.

Just over the shoulders of Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney was the downcast visage of Johnny Weissmuller, one of the most well-known people of the 20th century.

Not only did Weissmuller dominate the sprint races in the Olympics in the 1920s, he was the most enduring face of Tarzan on the silver screen, starring in 12 films featuring the beloved Edgar Rice Burrough’s creation. But Weissmuller as Tarzan would never have existed if not for Weissmuller as ultimate swimming machine. When Weissmuller arrived in Paris in June 1924 for the Olympics, the world had incredibly high expectations as Weissmuller held most of the world’s swimming records from 50 to 500 yards.

It was all so easy that at the 1923 AAU National Indoor Championships in Chicago, Weissmuller won the freestyle in the 50, 100, 220 and 500-yard competitions, as well as the 880-yard freestyle relay. But according to David Fury, author of Weissmuller’s biography entitled Twice the Hero, Weissmuller threw in a gimme. When told that there was only one more race – the 150-yard backstroke – which was not one of his events, he replied, “It is tonight.” Despite not actively competing in the backstroke, he set a world record.

In 1923, Weissmuller was in his prime and ready for the 1924 Paris Olympics. But when he was 15 years old, he was a tall, wiry youth who worked as a bellhop at a hotel in Chicago to help his family make ends meet, who also happened to enjoy swimming. He had a friend in the famed Illinois Athletic Club (IAC) who trained under Bill Bachrach, considered one of America’s best swimming coaches.

Thanks to his friend, Weissmuller eventually got a chance to show Bachrach what he could do in the pool. According to Twice the Hero, Weissmuller recalled, “as I look back now, my stroke was terrible. I plunged into the water and started to swim my head off. At the end of the 25 yards – 75 yards from my goal – I was completely exhausted. I was ashamed of myself. It was then that I received the most important lesson – in swimming or in life. Bachrach told me to swim for form and not for speed. Throughout my career I swam for form. Speed came as a result of it.”

In the brilliant biography of Duke Kahanamoku, entitled Waterman, author David Davis wrote that Bachrach instantly saw the potential in young Weissmuller.

Johnny Weissmuller age 17_Twice the Hero
Johnny Weissmuller age 17, from the book, Twice the Hero

It didn’t take long for Bachrach to realize that he had found an unpolished gem. Johnny stood six feet three inches. He was lanky yet powerfully build, with impossibly wide shoulders. Beneath a mass of gleaming black hair, he sported a cocky, devil-may-care grin that concealed a Teutonic work ethic. Bachrach bemoaned Johnny’s horrible thrashing in the water but was impressed enough to present him with a golden ticket: membership to the IAC and access to the indoor pool inside the twelve-story clubhouse on Michigan Avenue.

For a year, Bachrach kept Weissmuller out of competition, working step by step, first on his arm movement, and then on his legs. Weissmuller was a devoted student, understanding and mastering the relaxed arm stroke, as well as the leg kick of the greatest sprinter of the time and Olympic champion, Duke Kahanamoku. He mastered the fast start of his teammate and Olympic champion Norman Ross, and mimicked the lane turn of another great swimming champion, Harry Hebner.

Weissmuller was such a good student, Bachrach asked his prodigy to take a leap. Quit the hotel bellhop job, and deal with short-term financial insecurity in exchange for the possibility of becoming the world’s greatest swimmer. Weissmuller had big dreams and they weren’t on the hotel lobby floor.

In January, 1921, only three months after Weissmuller was introduced to Bachrach, Weissmuller participated in a contest at the IAC pool. Apparently he was so nervous he false started three times, but still ended up second in this unsanctioned race. A couple of months later, Bachrach entered Weissmuller into a 500-year freestyle competition, in which he came in second to Ross. Bachrach wanted to see how his boy would react to the pressure, and on the whole, he handled it well. Bachrach kept Weissmuller under wraps for five more months until he thought he was ready for prime time.

Finally entered into an official AAU competition in August, 1921 at the Duluth Boat Club in Minnesota, the 17-year old was up against world-class competition. And on that one day on August 6, Weissmuller, seemingly out of nowhere, won the 50-yard freestyle, 100-yard freestyle, 120-yard freestyle and 150-yard freestyle races.

A star was born. Because from that point on for another 7 years, Johnny Weissmuller would emerge victorious in every single competition he entered.

Vultee Hale Herwig and Kahanamoku after the rescue
Just days after the rescue, four of Four of the heroes pose for a picture. From left to right: Gerry Vultee, Owen Hale, Bill Herwig and Duke Kahanamoku. ,Courtesy of Paul Burnett

It was a lazy weekend at Newport Beach in Los Angeles on June 14, 1925. Three-time Olympic gold-medal-winning swimmer, Duke Kahanamoku, had just woken up and stepped out of his tent on the beach at 6:40 in the morning for a swim. When he looked out onto the choppy waters of the Pacific Ocean, he saw a disaster unfold. A yacht named Thelma, carrying 17 people heading out to sea looking for tuna did not see the checkered flag, indicating unsafe waters.

Suddenly, a squall struck and waves as high as twenty feet high, were pounding the Thelma, and Kahanamoku watched the yacht list at a 45 degree angle on top of high waves, glass breaking, rigging and men flying overboard. Kahanamoku grabbed his surfboard and lept into the frothy waves.

Waterman CoverKahanamoku grabbed one man, then two, then a third, plopping them all on his surfboard before heading back to shore. By then, two of his camp friends, Owen Hale and Jerry Vultee, met him halfway and took the three survivors to safety. Back went Kahanamoku, as thrillingly relayed by David Davis in his biography of Kahanamoku, entitled Waterman.

Duke turned around, inhaled mightily, and jumped on his board. He dug into the water toward the Thelma. He secured two flailing fishermen and maneuvered them onto his board, then kicked towards Hale, Vultee, and safety. (Local meteorologist Antar) Deraga telephoned for assistance while his wife and a nurse, Mary Grigsby, wrapped the survivors in blankets and tried to resuscitate the unconscious men. Two bystanders, Charlie Plummer of Balboa and William McElhannon from Santa Ana, assisted in the rescue. For a third time, Kahanamoku turned to the sea. He picked up stragglers and placed them on his board until, finally, he could do no more.

Of the 17 on the Thelma, 12 were rescued, 8 saved solely by Kahanamoku.

Kahanamoku said little of this superhuman feat. But said J. A. Porter, chief of police in Newport Beach, “The Duke’s performance was the most superhuman rescue act and the finest display of surfboard riding that has ever been seen in the world.”

While surf lifesaving has become a profession as well as an international sporting competition, particularly in Australia, Davis explains that Kahanamoku himself wrote that his actions over 90 years ago made the surfboard de riguer for beach lifeguards.

“{The rescue] helped sell lifeguard service on the wisdom of keeping paddleboards at he guard towers. The boards soon became standard equipment on the emergency rescue trucks as well as at the towers. In short, some good sometimes comes from the worst of tragedies.”

Duke Kahanamoku and Henry Fonda
Duke Kahanamoku with film star Henry Fonda (1905 – 1982) who is draped in leis. Fonda is in Hawaii for the filming of ‘Mister Roberts’.

Kahanamoku first achieved Olympic glory in 1912 in Stockholm, Sweden, but because of the cancellation of the 1916 Olympic Games, Kahanamoku had to figure out how to remain an amateur for 8 years until he competed again at the 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp, Belgium.

Only a few months after the 1912 Stockholm Games, gold medalist pentathlete and decathlete, Jim Thorpe, was stripped of his medals and amateur status because he took home pocket change for playing semi-pro baseball in 1909 and 1910.

Kahanamoku, who considered Thorpe a friend, was crestfallen, and was reported to have said, “Jimmy Thorpe was the greatest athlete there ever was. He could do everything. And what happened to him was a bad break for sports and for everyone.”

When Thorpe was stripped of his medals, Kahanamoku and his backers had to be cautious. So, according to author David Davis, when the citizens of Hawaii raised money for Duke Kahanamoku after his gold-medal winning performance at the 1912 Stockholm Games, they weren’t sure how to provide it to him lest they risk Kahanamoku losing his amateur status. And if Kahanamoku lost his amateur status, and could no longer compete in AAU events or the Olympics, then Kahanamoku’s ability to draw tourists and opportunities to Hawaii, it was thought, would diminish. Eventually, a house was bought by a trust company, and Kahanamoku was able to move into a new home. The trust was set up so that he could never re-sell the home. The flip side of the deal is that the powers that be in Hawaii probably kept this transaction under the AAU radar.

While it is possible that Kahanamoku received cash very quietly for appearances at exhibitions all over the world, as well as for low-key advertising campaigns in a pre-television, pre-internet world, Kahanamoku did not financially benefit from his immense celebrity while he was an athlete. This was true even after Kahanamoku had surrendered his amateur status and tried to make it in the world of film. His Hawaiian “otherness”, however, got him typecast as the quiet pacific islander surfer, or native American Indian chief. He was never able to rise to the easy heights of fellow swimmers, Johnny Weissmuller in the Tarzan films, or Buster Crabbe in the Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers films.

Anita Stewart and Duke Kahanamoku
Anita Stewart and Duke Kahanamoku in what I think is the 1927 film Isle of Sunken Gold

Kahanamoku is credited with appearances in 14 feature films, including the WWII naval classic, Mr Roberts, with Henry Fonda and James Cagney. But one film that is not mentioned is The Beachcomber, a film made shortly after Kahanamoku’s triumph in Stockholm. It never got distributed in the US, as it was seen as a threat to Kahanamoku’s amateur status. Here is how David Davis explains it in Kahanmoku’s biography, Waterman: The Life and Times of Duke Kahanamoku:

Before returning to Hawaii, Kahanamoku made his motion picture debut in The Beachcomber, shot on an unidentified beach in Southern California. The one-reel silent film was directed by its star, Hobart Bosworth, a pioneer in Hollywood’s nascent movie industry. (Bosworth also was a friend and business associate of the author Jack London.) Duke did not have to stretch much to play a native islander who swims out to rescue Bosworth’s character from drowning. Publicity shots showed him wearing nothing more than a sarong. Bosworth had to delay releasing the film, however, after it was discovered that “the champion might lose his right as an amateur if swimming for money,” according to Motion Picture News. It is unclear whether The Beachcomber was ever shown or distributed in the United States, although foreign audiences reportedly were able to view the stirring flick.

australia surf brands

Surfing is as Australian as vegemite. Champion surfers from Australia are commonplace. The image of an Aussie lifeguard on his surfboard to the rescue is now clichéd. Some of the biggest brands in surfing wear – Quicksilver and Billabong – are Australian. And even though the UGG Australia is an American brand, the company was started by an Australian surfer.

Australia is over 5,600 miles away from Hawaii. But when Duke Kahanamoku came to Australia in 1914, the locals must have thought he was from another planet. Kahanamoku was world famous, which is saying a lot for that time. Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, a natural on the water, Kahanamoku was such an amazing swimmer that he got on the US Olympic team and won a gold medal in the 100 meters, and a silver in a relay race at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics.

Duke Kahanamoku surfing in Australia
Duke Kahanamoku, Cronulla Beach Australia, 7th February 1915

Thanks to the stunning photos of Kahanamoku standing erect on his board while riding the waves in Hawaii, and his accomplishments at the Olympic Games, Kahanamoku was invited to compete in swimming events in Australia and New Zealand. He had heard that surfing on the beaches of Australia was illegal, so he didn’t bring his board. But when he arrived and was told that surfing was in fact legal, he said he would build a board himself. According to author David Davis in his wonderful biography of Kahanamoku, Waterman, Kahanamoku went to a lumberyard, got the wood he wanted, and shaped an eight-and-a-half foot “round-nosed, square-tailed board”.

Kahanamoku wowed them. Davis quotes The Sunday Times (Sydney), from December 27, 1914:

Duke Kahanamoku in Australia
Duke Kahanamoku at the Freshwater Clubhouse, Australia, with the board he made on arrival

“Kahanamoku was the ‘human motor boat,’ wrote one observer. ‘So lightning like was the movement that all one could see was a dark figure – it might have been a post for all that the spectators knew – flying through space. We had known him only by repute; we had seen him in pictures in one of his famous attitudes – standing on his surf board, being borne shorewards on the crest of a wave, a smile on his dusky countenance, and there were a lot of us who imagined the poster to be grossly exaggerated; too theatrical, in fact. But we are wrong. The man on the poster is the Duke all right, but the picture errs on the side of modesty.'”

It is legend that Kahanamoku was the first to surf on Australian shores. But that is not the case. Brothers, William and Tommy Walker of Australia appear to have purchased a surfboard in Hawaii and brought it back to Sydney before Duke was on the scene. But there is no doubt that Kahanamoku, his presence, demeanor and skill, made him and surfing a phenomenon.

“Kahanamoku was the first expert to surf in Australian waters,” wrote Davis. “And, as he had done previously in places like Atlantic City and Southern California, his skill at ‘walking on water’ inspired numerous followers. At least three of the young people whom he directly touched on the 1914-1915 trip – Claude West, “Snow” McAlister, and Isabel Letham – grew up to become influential figures in Australian circles. Once

Batman vs Superman

In the film, Batman Vs Superman, two iconic comic book characters are brought face to face, setting up the inevitable debut of the Justice League from the DC universe. In the series, the Avengers, countless super-heroes of the Marvel universe have been brought together much to the delight of geeks and fanboys.

In the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden, there was a super-hero team up of sorts when Jim Thorpe and Duke Kahanamoku were selected for the US Olympic Team. Thorpe is considered one of the greatest athletes the world has ever known. At the 1912 Olympics, Thorpe won, amazingly, both the pentathlon and the decathlon.

Thorpe and Kahanamoku
Jim Thorpe(left) and Duke Kahanamoku (right) in 1912

 

Duke Kahanamoku of the then American territory of Hawaii helped popularize surfing beyond his Honolulu shores. At the 1912 Olympics, he won the 100-meter finals becoming the fastest swimmer in the world.

Like most super-heroes, Thorpe and Kahanamoku were the outsiders. The Native Indian Thorpe and the Hawaaiin Kahanamoku were relatively dark skinned, and were seen as exotic by mainstream America, as explained by David Davis in his wonderful biography of Kahanamoku called Waterman: The Life and Times of Duke Kahanamoku. Davis shared a typical headline from the Detroit Free Press, which accompanied a picture of Kahamoku and a black athlete, Howard Drew: Two Dark-Skinned Athletes with American Team”

The head of the US Olympic squad, John Sullivan, was typical of the times – he believed in the superiority of white athletes, and male athletes. But as Davis explained, he was also