The Ambassador of Aloha
More affectionately known as “The Duke,” the Honolulu-born waterman is credited as the original Ambassador of Aloha because of the way he shared aloha with the world. From dancing hula with England’s Queen Mother, Elizabeth, to representing the islands on the world stage in three Olympic Games, his embodiment of Hawaiian tradition and spirit shaped an enduring global interest in all the islands have to offer.
Then there’s his influence on the world of surfing.
In the early 1900s, surfers were a rare sight along Hawaii’s coasts. While a deep-rooted part of the islands’ heritage and culture, American missionaries balked at the sport’s “immodesties,” like exposing bare skin and contest gambling.
Surfing never vanished from Hawaiian shorelines, but its prominence was in decline at this turn of the century. Yet by 1912, Duke’s celebrity was beginning to soar — he’d just earned his first gold medal in swimming thanks to his infamous “Kahanamoku Kick” — and he brought his love for surfing with him into the spotlight.
Surfing’s Global Revival
Thousands of spectators would gather to cheer on the Olympic swimmer’s mastery above the waves at exhibitions held from New Jersey to California. By 1914, “The Father of Modern Surfing” took his impassioned expertise international, riding at the helm of Australia’s first-ever demonstration in Sydney.
Still, Duke’s sphere of influence didn’t end at the surf’s break. He’s widely celebrated for rescuing eight fishermen from rough seas using his surfboard, was elected as Honolulu’s mayor, and appeared in over a dozen Hollywood films. Throughout his accomplishments, Duke’s commitment to Hawaiian culture and its relationship to the sea shone brightly — a legacy his namesake foundation aims to pay forward.
Empowering Generations of Hawaiian Athletes
As of 2020, the Outrigger Duke Kahanamoku Foundation (ODKF) has invested more than $3 million toward scholarships, grants, and other support for Hawaii’s student-athletes who personify the Duke’s spirit.
Duke’s Oceanfest is Waikiki’s annual week-long celebration of this effort. The festival’s events honor Duke’s life, including his contributions to Hawaii’s global image and the surfing culture it supports. But this year stands to be even more significant. Nearly 110 years after Duke first wowed crowds, surfing is making its inaugural debut as an Olympic event at the Tokyo Games — a contest the five-time medalist never lived to see, but undeniably inspired.
What to Do at Duke’s Oceanfest
Duke's Oceanfest isn’t just about the surf, either. There are swimming competitions, beach volleyball, water polo, and stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) along with exhibitions featuring Hawaii’s athletic elite.
Any event in Hawaii wouldn’t be complete without a culinary complement, however.
Right on the festival’s shoreline is another ode to the father of surfing: Duke’s Waikiki. With its panoramic view of Diamond Head, it’s the perfect spot to kick off your shoes and take in each day’s action. Wake up with banana pancakes or shake off the day’s salt and sand with a signature Hawaiian Mai Tai. And don't forget to try the Hula Pie! This decadent dessert is straight out of local lore and the perfect way to refuel after a Duke-approved day in the sun and surf.
Want to learn more about Duke’s Oceanfest? Check out the official schedule of events for this year’s festival — and don't miss our special Duke's Celebration Package, where you can watch the celebration unfold right from your doorstep.