5 Duke Kahanamoku Facts You Probably Didn't Know

24/08/2015 1:14 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Duke Kahanamoku, the father of surfing, would have turned 125 today.

Google is celebrating the Hawaiian-American competition swimmer's birthday by honoring him with a Doodle. Kahanamoku was a five-time Olympic medalist in swimming.

Known as the Ambassador of Aloha, Kahanamoku traveled the world, bringing surfing to the likes of California, Australia and New Zealand over his lifetime. He passed away in 1968.

Doodler Matt Cruickshank’s artwork features the iconic surfer and his trademark grin, along with his famous wooden surfboard.

Here are 7 things you may have not known about the Olympic swimmer:

1. Kahanamoku was known as the ‘King of All Swimmers’ and shattered world records in his 20s.

Born in August 24, 1890 in Honolulu, Hawaii, he grew up on Waikiki. He was a strong swimmer at a very early age. And, in 1911, he broke three freestyle world records in Hawaii’s first-ever AAU swim meet, which was also the first time he swam competitively.

2. In 1912, he became an Olympic swimmer, qualifying for the U.S. team. At the Summer Olympics that year in Stockholm, he won the gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle, the silver medal in and the 4×200-meter freestyle relay. He broke the world record in the 100-meter freestyle, using the famous “Kahanamoku Kick.”

He won gold medals in the 100-meter freestyle and the relay at the 1920 Summer Olympics, and won the silver medal in the 100-meter frestyle at the 1924 Olympics.

3. Kahanamoku was known for much more than just riding waves. He was also an actor, lawman, beach volleyball player, and a businessman.

He appeared in at least 14 films, according to IMDB. Because of his Hawaiian heritage and dark skin, many of his film roles were as foreigners or Native Americans, like “Native Chief” in the 1955 film Mister Roberts, and The Devil-Ape in 1927’s Isle of Sunken Gold.

4. In 1925, the Olympic swimmer rescued stranded fishermen off the coast of Newport Beach, California in what later came to be known as 'The Great Rescue'.

On June 14, 1925, a 40-foot shipping boat was wrecked by dangerous waters, sending fishermen into the sea. Kahanamoku, then 34, was at the beach surfing when the wreck occurred. He and two other surfers helped rescue 12 fisherman, pulling them onto their boards.

According to the Encyclopedia of Surfing, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin called it a “superhuman rescue act.”

“In a matter of minutes we were making rescues; (people were) screaming, gagging, thrashing. Some victims we could not save at all,” Kahanamoku recalled in the book Legendary Surfers by Malcom Gault Williams.

“We lost count of the number of trips we made. Without the boards, we would probably not have been able to rescue a single person,” he had said.

The “Great Rescue” led to surfboards becoming a common tool for rescue swimmers.

5. He also helped Hawaiian islands achieve statehood in 1959.

Kahanamoku served as the mostly ceremonial sheriff of Honolulu, and welcomed politicians and other dignitaries to the islands, while also bringing Hawaiian culture to the mainland. After Hawaii became a state, the position of sheriff, which he had held for several years, was eliminated. He was given the paid title of “Ambassador of Aloha.”

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