Duke Kahanamoku, the king of surfing.

Duke Kahanamoku: Personal Life, Career & Net worth

Duke Kahanamoku, a five-time Olympic medalist swimmer, was mainly active during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Kahanamoku, was also known as “The Duke” and “The Big Kahuna,” is widely regarded as the father of modern surfing.

Although the Hawaiian swimmer won five Olympic medals, he also dazzled in the film industry, politics, and business.


He was, without a doubt, a man of enormous talent and dedication.

In addition, he was most recognized for inventing the flutter kick, which has virtually supplanted the scissors kick.

This article explains the early life, professional career, death, and legacies of Duke Kahanamoku. 

Quick Facts

Full Name Duke Paoa Kahinu Mokoe Hulikohola Kahanamoku
Birth Date August 24, 1890
Birth Place Haleakala, Honolulu, Hawaii
Death Date January 22, 1968
Nationality Hawaiian
Ethnicity Not Available
Hobbies Canoeing, Sailing, Water polo, Playing Ukulele
Food Habit Non-vegetarian 
Education Not Available
Zodiac Sign Aquarius
Father’s Name Duke Halapu Kahanamoku 
Mother’s Name Julia Paakonia Lonokahikini Paoa
Siblings Samuel Kahanamoku, David Kahanamoku, Louis Kahanamoku, Sargent Kahanamoku, Bernice Kahanamoku, Maria Kahanamoku, Bill Kahanamoku & Kapiolani Kahanamoku
Age [calculate_years datestring=”08/24/1890″] Years Old
Height 6 feet 1 inch (185 cm)
Reach Not Available
Weight 190 lb (86 kg)
Eye Color Dark Brown
Hair Color Black
Profession Swimmer, Surfer, Water Poloist, and Actor
Coach Not Available
Marital Status Married
Wife Nadine Alexander (1940-1968)
Active Years Not Available
Children None
Net Worth $1.9 million (as of [current-year])
Social Media None
Merch Posters, Trading Card, Sportscaster Card, Waterman: The Life and Times of Duke Kahanamoku
Last Update [current-month], [current-year]

Duke Kahanamoku: Age, Height, and Weight

Duke Kahanamoku, sadly, has passed away. He was born on January 22, 1968.

Kahanamoku, considered the King of the surfing world, passed away on  January 22, 1968.  

The Hawaiin stood at 6 feet 1 inch (185 cm) and roughly weighed around 190 lb (86 kg).

Moreover, the Hawaiin was an Aquarius sign. 

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Duke Kahanamoku: Personal Life

Kahanamoku was born in Honolulu at Haleakala. He had five brothers and three sisters. 

To be closer to his mother’s family, his family moved to Klia, Waikiki, near the current site of Hilton Hawaiian Village in 1893.

Although he went to different schools, he couldn’t finish his studies since he needed to support his family.

Duke Halapu Kahanamoku was the father of a famous swimmer. He also used to be a police officer.

Similarly, Julia Paakonia Lonokahikina Paoa was his mother. She was a very religious woman with a strong sense of kinship.

Kahanamoku grew up on the borders of Waikiki. Nicknamed “The Big Kahuna,” he spent much of his childhood at the beach.

Duke spent lots of time in the water honing his surfing and swimming talents from a young age.

In his childhood, Kahanamoku preferred a traditional surfboard. He referred to the board as “Papa Niu.”

In addition, the surfboard was 16 feet (4.9 m) long and weighed 114 pounds (51 kg). 

Duke Kahanamoku and his surfboard
Duke Kahanamoku and his surfboard

Similarly, he often used smaller boards in his later surfing career, but he always liked wooden boards.

Always Active

Duke was constantly in contact with water. He would swim, surf, dive & explore the island’s many underwater spots.

The young Kahanamoku completed elementary school and was enrolled in Kamehameha Industrial School.

But, the surfer did not complete his education because his family needed money.

Duke was forced to work to pay the bills. He sold newspapers, delivered ice, and shined shoes.

At 21, his swimming abilities paid off; he broke the 100-yard freestyle world record by 4.6 seconds.

Unfortunately, judges ruled that the race floats drifted, and the measurement was incorrect.

There was a new hero in the sports world. He was also a skilled ukulele player.

The Hawaiian native began traveling the world to teach his well-known “Kahanamoku Kick” swimming technique.

The dark-skinned athlete was the star of the first-ever surfing exhibition on Freshwater Beach in Sydney, Australia, on December 23, 1914.

Kahanamoku married Nadine Alexander in 1940, and she followed him on his journeys.

Moreover, she was a dance teacher at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. In addition, the couple didn’t have any children.

You may be interested to know about Jordy Smith, a seven-time World Surf League (WSL) champion with a net worth of $2.1 million.

Duke Kahanamoku: Career

Kahanamoku traveled globally to perform swimming exhibitions in between Olympic competitions and after retiring from the Olympics.

The man who popularized surfing around the world was a Hawaiian. During his traveling concerts, he also gave surfing demonstrations.

Before, Duke popularized the sport. But, unfortunately, only Hawaiians were aware of it before.

In 1912, while in Southern California, he was the first to introduce surfing to mainland America.

The surfer was the only individual to be inducted into both the United States Olympic Hall of Fame and Swimming and Surfing Halls of Fame.

Moreover, Kahanamoku worked in Hollywood as a background actor. Later, he also played a character actor in various films in Southern California.

In this way, he built contacts with people who could help spread the word about surfing.

Kahanamoku was a member of the Los Angeles Athletic Club, where he worked as a lifeguard and competed in both swimming and water polo.


In 1912, Kahanamoku qualified for the United States Olympic swimming team.

He earned a gold and a silver medal for the United States team.

The Hawaiian native won gold medals in both the 100 meters and the relay in the 1920 Antwerp Olympics.

During the 1924 Olympics in Paris, the surfer won a silver medal in the 100 meters. However, his brother Samuel managed to win the bronze medal. 

However, Kahanamoku won no more Olympic medals by the time he was 34.

He did, however, represent the United States in water polo in the 1932 Summer Olympics as an alternate.

The late three-time Olympic gold winner would be ecstatic that the sport he promoted is now part of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

After the IOC approved its inclusion petition in 2016, surfing was considered an Olympic sport.

Duke Kahanamoku: Net worth

Kahanamoku’s net worth was reportedly worth up to $1.9million. He did, in fact, make the majority of his money from his profession.

Duke Kahanamoku is regarded as one of the greatest freestyle swimmers in the world.

In addition, he is most recognized for inventing the flutter kick, which has virtually supplanted the scissors kick.

Therefore, Duke was well-known not only for swimming but also for surfing.


Duke didn’t have a lot of money in his early days.

However, his celebrity status later netted him a slew of lucrative commercial endorsement possibilities.

Initially, he signed a five-year contract with Branfleet, an apparel company.

They jumped on the “Aloha shirts” craze together. Similarly, Duke was the first to acquire sporting goods accessories in the water in 1932.


The Hawaiian also had a Union Oil gas station on the crossroads of Nuuanu and Pauoa roads in the 1930s.

Similarly, he also ran two more petrol stations in Waikiki near Kalakaua and Seaside avenues at the same time.

Duke Kahanamoku: Films

Duke Kahanamoku also had a successful acting career. He started in the 1920s, with a role in the film ‘Adventure,’ released in 1925.

He used to play Noah Noa, a character on the show.

Similarly, the Hawaiin has also been featured in several films. For example, he played an Indian chief in the film “The Pony Express.” 

Likewise, the actor featured in the film “No Father To Guide Him” playing a lifeguard and Tamb Itam in the film “Lord Jim.”

The next year, in 1926, Duke starred as a pirate captain in the film “Old Ironsides.”

In addition, he played a Hawaiian youngster in the 1927 film “Hula” and as Lono in the film “Isle of Sunken Gold.”

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Duke Kahanamoku:  Charity

Duke founded the Outrigger Duke Kahanamoku Foundation with thirds of the same Outrigger Canoe Club. They also have $1,239,507 in net assets.

Their earnings came from various sources, including investment income, trademark income, fundraising, and contributions.

Every year, they offer $76,547 in scholarships and spend $22,698 on trademark-related legal expenditures.

Additionally, as a nonprofit organization, they try to assist an individual financially.

They also host the Duke’s OceanFest, which takes place every August to commemorate Duke’s birthday.

Duke Kahanamoku: Death

At the age of 77, Kahanamoku died of a heart attack on January 22, 1968.

Firstly, a large caravan of mourners, escorted by a 30-man police escort. Then, they proceeded to take Duke across town to Waikiki Beach for his sea burial.

In addition, the ceremony was led by Reverend Abraham Akaka. He was a pastor of Kawaiahao Church.

Moreover, his family scattered the duke’s ashes into the ocean. 

Duke Kahanamoku: Legacy

As previously stated, Kahanamoku is the first person to be inducted into both the Surfing and the Swimming Halls of Fames.

He also has a statue in Freshwater Beach, Australia, on the northern tip of South Wales, where he held his swimming performances.

Duke Kahanamoku statue in Wakiki
Duke Kahanamoku statue in Wakiki

There are also statues dedicated to him in other locations too. One of the statues is in his Waikiki burial site.

Furthermore, it was unveiled in 1990 by the City of Honolulu. Jan Gordon Fisher sculpted the bronze statue. The statue is 9 feet tall.

On February 28, 2015, New Zealand revealed a replica of Kahanamoku’s surfboard to mark the 100th-anniversary visit of Duke to New Brighton.

Frequently Asked Questions

What two water sports did the Duke Kahanamoku excel in?

Duke Kahanamoku excelled at rough-water swimming and canoeing.

Even as a child, he excelled and enjoyed swimming, and as a young man, he shaped himself into a superb athlete.

Where was the first Duke’s Restaurant?

The Duke’s first restaurant was on the island of Kauai in Hawaii.

Duke’s Restaurant and Barefoot Bar was named after Duke Kahanamoku.

The restaurant has a special place in the hearts of Kauai residents and surfers worldwide.

Why was Duke Kahanamoku named Surfer of the Century in 1999?

Kahanamoku used his athletic fame to bring the ancient art of surfing to the American culture. 

Before him, surfing was a sport almost unknown outside of the islands of Hawaii.

Hence, Surfer magazine named him the “Surfer of the Century” in 1999. 

Was Duke Kahanamoku a pure Hawaiian?

Duke Kahanamoku (24th August of 1890 – 22th January of 1968) was a Native Hawaiian. 

Who is Hawaii’s most famous surfer?

Duke Kahanamoku, widely regarded as the forefather of professional surfing.

He is widely regarded as an icon and a beloved surfer in modern Hawaiian history.

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