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This Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we’re highlighting people whose contributions have often been overlooked. Tonight, we spotlight an Olympic swimming champion and “father of modern surfing,” Duke Kahanamoku.
Finally tonight, as part of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we're highlighting people whose contributions have often been overlooked. Tonight, we spotlight an Olympic swimming champion and the father of modern surfing Duke Kahanamoku although his legacy can be seen around the world, his name is unknown to many outside Hawaii.
Duke Kahanamoko was a true son of Hawaii, completely at home on the waves. He first gained national attention as a swimmer, overcoming both competitors and racism. In 1911, at Hawaii's first official amateur swim meet, the 20 year old Kahanamoko shattered the world record for the 100 yard freestyle by a full 4.6 seconds. But mainland officials refused to acknowledge his feat. Locals raised money for Kahanamoko to prove his talent as an Olympian.
At the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, he won a gold medal and a silver. He qualified for two more U.S. Olympic teams and won two more gold medals and another silver. His achievement in the pool brought more attention to his surfing exhibitions.
On beaches from Los Angeles to Sydney, he used his longboards made of Hawaiian koa wood to introduce the world to a sport little known outside of Hawaii. He also showed that surfboards could save lives.
In 1925, while surfing in Southern California, he paddled into a stormy ocean and rescued eight people whose boat was capsized. The incident was the inspiration for the rescue boards lifeguards use today.
Kahanamoko also had something of a movie career. Between 1925 and 1955, he had small roles in more than a dozen films. He later returned to live full time in Hawaii and began a 26-year-career as sheriff of Honolulu.
Kahanamoku is in three sports halls of fame surfing, international swimming and U. S. Olympic. Kahanamoku died in January 1968 at the age of 77, but he still has a presence on Waikiki Beach. A nine foot bronze statue erected to mark the centennial of his birth invites visitors to ride his waves.
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John Yang is the anchor of PBS News Weekend and a correspondent for the PBS NewsHour. He covered the first year of the Trump administration and is currently reporting on major national issues from Washington, DC, and across the country.
Ali Rogin is a correspondent for PBS News Weekend and a foreign affairs producer at the PBS NewsHour.
Satvi Sunkara is a production assistant for PBS News Weekend.
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