American Masters Takes a Look Into the Little-Known Life of Duke Kahanamoku
As a dark-skinned Pacific Islander, Five-time Olympic medalist Duke Kahanamoku broke through racial barriers with athletic accomplishments before Joe Louis, Jesse Owens and Jackie Robinson; yet relatively few outside of Hawaii know the details of his inspiring story and considerable impact. Narrated by Aquaman and Game of Thrones star Jason Momoa, Waterman – Duke Ambassador of Aloha, a new film from American Masters, reveals Kahanamoku’s influence on surfing’s global spread, his life-saving achievements and the obstacles he conquered both within and outside the sporting world.
After his appearance in the 1924 Olympics, Kahanamoku began dabbling in Hollywood and started to appear in movies by 1925. Unlike other Olympic champions who went on to further glory by starring in blockbusters, Kahanamoku’s dream of playing Tarzan in the movies never materialized. Instead, the role went to his friend and Olympic swimming rival Johnny Weissmuller. Though he represented Pacific Islanders in minor Hollywood roles, Kahanamoku became best known as the “Ambassador of Aloha,” playing a vital role in supporting the burgeoning tourist industry.
By the time Hawaii became the 50th state, surfing had spread throughout America and around the world because of Kahanamoku’s influence and celebrity. Through his popular surfing exhibitions, he brought the sport to both coasts of the United States and to Freshwater Beach near Sydney, Australia. Additionally, he famously used his surfboard to save eight people from a shipwreck off Newport Beach in California, which was highly documented in news media.
Using rare archival footage, contemporary visuals and new interviews with Laird Hamilton (big wave surfer), Kelly Slater (11-time world champion surfer), Carissa Moore (Olympic surfing gold medalist), Jack Johnson (musician), David Davis (author, Waterman), Moses Goods (playwright and actor, Duke), Dr. Isaiah Helekunihi Walker (author, Waves of Resistance), Fred Hemmings (world champion surfer), Kelia Moniz (world champion surfer), Kai Lenny (big wave surfer) and others. The documentary presents Kahanamoku’s rise to fame and how he became the face of a changing Hawaii as it evolved from an isolated island kingdom to a multi-ethnic American paradise.
Learn more about Duke Kahanamoku on the premiere of American Masters: Waterman – Duke Ambassador of Aloha on Tuesday, May 10, at 10pm on CET, ThinkTV16, the stations’ livestreams and the PBS Video App.