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by Ron Cruger
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2013 Spectator Ron - The Spectator All Rights Reserved
Enormous crowds lined the sands of Waikiki Beach. Old timers had never
seen such a mass of people. Not since the statehood celebration
had so many assembled in one place in Hawaii. From Queen’s Beach on
one side to Ala Moana Beach on the other the thousands
and lined up ten and twenty deep. Only a few had met him personally. But
everyone knew of him. They were all there
to offer their Aloha to this
man who had become a living legend. Now the flesh of the man was gone
but the spirit would remain in
Hawaii’s soul forever. Whenever the men,
the Kane, or the women, the Wahine, gathered on the sands or the waters
of the ocean the
spirit of Duke would appear in their minds. The
thousands that assembled that day in Waikiki noticed that the skies were
gray. Clouds drifted from Diamond Head to past Barber’s
Point. The sun appeared to be unsure of whether to poke through the
or remain behind a cloak of clouds.
It was January 27, 1968, Duke Kahanamoku, had passed away
five days before. All Hawaiians,
in blood or in spirit were deeply
Duke was born August 24, 1890 and grew up on the outskirts
of Waikiki. His Hawaiian
name was Duke Paoa Kahinu Mokoe Hulikohola
Some knew of him because he had become an Olympic gold medal
in 1912. Others because he was singly responsible for the
popularization of surfing. He is a member of the Surfing, Swimming and
Halls of Fame. Later in his life he became Sheriff of Honolulu.
He appeared in numerous Hollywood films, mostly as a character actor.
In 1924, at age 34, he qualified for the Paris Olympics and
raced against the twenty-year old, soon-to-be Tarzan, Johnny
Weissmuller. In 1934, at age 42 he again qualified for the Olympics,
winning a bronze medal on the water polo team.
yet, what endeared him in Hawaii and around the world
was his concern for others, his humility in victory and his good
in defeat. He displayed a massive gentleness.
. I had met Duke the same evening I was introduced
to famous Hawaiian
entertainer, Don Ho. The pair was celebrating the
opening of Duke’s nightclub in Waikiki. Duke was an elderly man by then,
away from his final days, but his carriage was distinctly
royal. He was tall, handsome and his Hawaiian skin was brought to an
darker tone by his lifetime of riding the ocean’s waves. His smile
was genuine – from his soul.
We shook hands and then
he guided me to a table with two
chairs. He sat across from me and asked, “Where are you from?” I
answered and then we talked of his
beloved Hawaii and its unique place
among the world’s lands. He said that he was happiest when he was in the
water, swimming like
a fish. After ten minutes he held his hand out for
mine. Shook it again and said, “My aloha goes with you.” He smiled and
to greet the others.
A few months later Duke died.
Now I was among the thousands, filling Waikiki to offer our
final Aloha to Duke.
Waikiki’s main road, Kalakaua Avenue, was absent of its
normal auto traffic. Sidewalks and the thoroughfare
were filled with the
crush of those wanting to be closer to the ceremony.
Above, the skies grew grayer. The sun was still
undecided on its place.
Standing on the soft sands behind the Royal Hawaiian Hotel,
the Reverend Abraham Akaka, pastor of
Hawaii’s Kawaiahao Church, spoke
with tearful eyes expressing the sorrow of all present. He spoke of the
joy that was shared by the
many who had known Duke. He spoke of the
giant that Duke was. He reminded all of the Ali’I (nobility) that was
pastor Akaka, with tears flowing, finished, he nodded
to his left, where Hawaii’s beach boys were standing. The group of
men, in their swim trunks, began singing their farewell to
Duke – “Aloha oe.” The thousands were silent, listening, tears flowing.
beach boys were offering their final Aloha to the man they all admired. “Aloha oe.”
Reverend Akaka carried the box containing
towards the meeting of ocean and sand. Duke’s wife Nadine walked beside
When they reached the
line of a dozen or more outrigger
canoes, gently bobbing with the flow of the surf, the Reverend and
Nadine climbed into the lead
The paddlers began their exercise. Swiftly the canoes
reached the coral reef a thousand yards off the surf
of Waikiki. The
good Reverend and Duke’s loving Nadine spread Duke’s ashes on the loving
sea. Duke’s place.
With the last
bit of ashes poured the outrigger canoes
slowly, majestically, all turned landward. There was a hesitation as
they all toed an imaginary
line on the waters. All facing the sands of
There was a hush in Hawaii. Silence throughout Waikiki.
the paddles found the ocean again. Furiously, the
paddlers poked their paddles deeply and stroked. It was a race. In honor
The canoes sprinted towards land. The crowd began to cheer,
not for a winner, but for the meaning of what was happening
eyes. A tribute to Duke.
The outrigger canoes reached the sands of Waikiki. The
paddles were withdrawn from
the waters. The paddlers breathed heard. As
one they just sat, paddles on their laps, they stared ahead. Some wept.
the sun hid behind the gray clouds.
And just then, a gentle rain fell on the Duke’s ashes and on the thousands who had
come to say “Aloha oe.”
Hawaii’s skies wept.