Duke won his first Olympic gold medal and set a world record in the 100-meter free-style and won a silver as a participant in the 200-meter relay in Stockholm in 1912. He won his second and third gold medals in 1920 during the Antwerp Olympics, again breaking his world record in the 100-meter free-style and setting a world record on the free-style relay team. In the 1924 Paris Olympics, he won a silver medal for the 100-meter free-style. Then in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, he was awarded a bronze medal as an alternate on the water polo team.
First to be inducted into both the swimming and surfing Halls of Fame, Duke won medals, trophies and worldwide fame as a swimmer, but surfed purely for the fun of it in an era before surfing was a competitive sport. His legendary longboard surfing was recorded on news reels. Museums and memorials in Australia, California, Florida, New York, Hawaii and elsewhere pay tribute to his influence on surfers and the sport of surfing all over the world. Duke also is recognized in the Citizens Savings Hall of Fame Athletic Museum.
Duke was a descendant of Hawaiian royalty. And, although not a duke, his achievements in swimming and surfing, along with his good looks and unaffected charm, brought him the attention and admiration of royalty and a nine-year career in Hollywood. He appeared in about 30 movies and, although some were very minor roles, his career bridged the old silent movies and the "talkies." By nature, he was more suited to the silent movie. Duke never capitalized on his fame and was always gracious.
"He was concerned about everybody, especially the guys who were working the beach. He knew it wasn't easy, that you had to have a special type of talent," said former Waikiki beachboy George Downing. The "Waikiki beachboy" is a relic from another era. Legend casts him as a bronzed water man with enormous charm, good humor and musical genius. Duke was an originator of this group of surfers, and some still can be found on the beaches at Waikiki.
Duke was most at home in Hawaii, among his family and friends and close to the ocean he loved. He spoke Hawaiian, he loved hula and he embodied Hawaii's spirit of aloha. He was sheriff for the City and County of Honolulu and loved his job. Duke also did a two-year stint as a gas station operator between his Hollywood years and his 26 years as sheriff.
He married Nadine Alexander on August 2, 1940. She survived him by nearly 30 years and died on July 17, 1997.
The world bid Duke aloha on January 22, 1968. He was remembered in Congress and in national magazines and newspapers as a symbol of Hawaii, and as a man of many accomplishments who was at peace with himself.
In Hawaii we greet friends, loved ones or strangers with "Aloha," which means with love. Aloha is the key word to the universal spirit of real hospitality, which makes Hawaii renowned as the world's center of understanding and fellowship.
Try meeting or leaving people with Aloha. You'll be surprised by their reaction. I believe it, and it is my creed. Aloha to you. Duke Paoa Kahanamoku
This message was printed on the back of his personal business card, on the bronze plaque with Duke's statue at Kuhio Beach in Waikiki and in Sandra Kimberley Hall's and Greg Ambrose's "Memories of Duke: The Legend Comes to Life" (1995).