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“The Duke” of the Longboard

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Duke Kahanamoku and his troupe
Duke Kahanamoku and his Troupe. Photo by Frank G. Carpenter, 1921.

A native Hawaiian, Duke Kahanamoku grew up with a love of water sports. "The Duke" became an overnight worldwide sensation when he broke the Olympic record for the 100-meter swim dash at the 1912 Stockholm games. Kahanamoku’s place in the international spotlight is evidenced by the two photographs featured today: one by world-traveler Frank G. Carpenter and the second for the New York-based Bain News Service. Carpenter’s 1921 photo, taken in Hawaii, shows Kahanamoku on the far right with five fellow Hawaiian members of his “Troupe,” all in island attire. Contrast that photo with the Bain image of Duke and his brother Sam on shipboard decked out in Western attire, complete with stylish knickers and a bowtie for Sam while Duke sports a necktie.

What neither picture shows is the surfboard with which Duke Kahanamoku popularized the sport of surfing. The board Kahanamoku used was vastly different than the surfboards used today. The classic Hawaiian surfboard was heavier, wider, and a lot longer than contemporary boards, hence it is known familiarly as a "longboard." In 1965, Duke Kahanamoku was inducted into both the Swimming Hall of Fame and the Surfing Hall of Fame.

Sam & Duke Kahanamoku
Sam & Duke Kahanamoku. Published by Bain News Service, undated.

Learn More:

  • Search on "Kahanamoku" in the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog to see some 20 images of the Duke.
  • Learn more about globetrotters Frank and daughter Frances Carpenter’s travels in the Background & Scope of the Carpenter Collection. You may also want to peruse more background on the pioneering news picture agency Bain News Service.
  • Visit the Web site for Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, a collaboration between the Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which join in paying tribute to the generations of Asian and Pacific Islanders who have enriched America’s history and are instrumental in its future success.

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