A landmark stop on almost every organized Honolulu tour is the nine-foot-tall bronze statue immortalizing Hawaii’s original ambassador of aloha, Duke Paoa Kahanamoku. One of those guys who was seemingly good at everything, Kahanamoku wore many hats. He was a Hollywood actor, a full-blooded Hawaiian descended from alii (the royal class), an Olympic swimmer who won gold in both the 1912 and 1920 games, an Olympic water polo player, a 13-term sheriff of Honolulu and one of Waikiki’s first surf and canoe instructors. Kahanamoku used his charm and personable nature to popularize surfing and was later the first person to be inducted into both the Surfing and Swimming Halls of Fame.
Poised in front of a longboard and welcoming visitors with open arms, the Duke statue has enjoyed a prime seaside spot across from popular Waikiki breaks since it was installed on what would have been Duke’s 100th birthday in 1990. Many visitors honor Duke’s memory by draping floral and kukui nut lei around his neck and from his arms, or just pause long enough to take a shaka selfie. Making this stop even more popular is the fact that one of Honolulu’s live city cameras is constantly trained on the statue and the palm-lined sands of Waikiki behind it — a great tool for making family back home jealous in real time.
Each summer, Duke’s OceanFest honors the waterman’s memory with ceremonies at the statue and a series of ocean sporting events including longboard surfing, paddleboard racing, swimming, surf polo and beach volleyball.