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The Life and Times of Duke Kahanamoku

David Davis

Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
Imprint: University of Nebraska Press
Published: 10/2015
Pages: 336
Subject: Biography and Autobiography
eBook ISBN: 9780803285125


Waterman is the first comprehensive biography of Duke Kahanamoku (1890–1968): swimmer, surfer, Olympic gold medalist, Hawaiian icon, waterman.Long before Michael Phelps and Mark Spitz made their splashes in the pool, Kahanamoku emerged from the backwaters of Waikiki to become America's first superstar Olympic swimmer. The original "human fish" set dozens of world records and topped the world rankings for more than a decade; his rivalry with Johnny Weissmuller transformed competitive swimming from an insignificant sideshow into a headliner event.Kahanamoku used his Olympic renown to introduce the sport of "surf-riding," an activity unknown beyond the Hawaiian Islands, to the world. Standing proudly on his traditional wooden longboard, he spread surfing from Australia to the Hollywood crowd in California to New Jersey. No American athlete has influenced two sports as profoundly as Kahanamoku did, and yet he remains an enigmatic and underappreciated figure: a dark-skinned Pacific Islander who encountered and overcame racism and ignorance long before the likes of Joe Louis, Jesse Owens, and Jackie Robinson.Kahanamoku's connection to his homeland was equally important. He was born when Hawaii was an independent kingdom; he served as the sheriff of Honolulu during Pearl Harbor and World War II and as a globetrotting "Ambassador of Aloha" afterward; he died not long after Hawaii attained statehood. As one sportswriter put it, Duke was "Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey combined down here."In Waterman, award-winning journalist David Davis examines the remarkable life of Duke Kahanamoku, in and out of the water.Purchase the audio edition.


David Davis is the author of Showdown at Shepherd's Bush: The 1908 Olympic Marathon and the Three Runners Who Launched a Sporting Craze; Play by Play: Los Angeles Sports Photography, 1889-1989; and Marathon Crasher: The Life and Times of Merry Lepper, the First American Woman to Run a Marathon. His work has appeared in Sports Illustrated, Smithsonian, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and in three anthologies, including The Best American Sports Writing. He lives in Los Angeles.


"David Davis writes a wonderful tale of this royal ambassador of aloha—effortlessly riding through a world of storms with magnanimity and grace."—Shaun Tomson, author of Surfer's Code: Twelve Simple Lessons for Riding Through Life

"David Davis has combined clear writing and meticulous research to present the life and times of one of the legends of Olympic history."—David Wallechinsky, president of the International Society of Olympic Historians

"It's remarkable how little we know about Duke Kahanamoku, one of the great figures in American sports history. As we discover in this book, there is much to be learned. We owe a debt of gratitude to David Davis for bringing the Duke's story so thoroughly to life."—Bruce Jenkins, author of North Shore Chronicles: Big-Wave Surfing in Hawaii