Film documents the life of Hawaiian superhero
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The list of Duke Paoa Kahanamoku’s achievements is unequaled by flesh-and-blood rivals. Born in Hawaii in 1890, the four-time U.S. Olympian won three swimming gold medals. He popularized surfing on the world stage, acted in films, and served as sheriff of Honolulu.
A real-life superhero, right? Wait, there’s more. Duke once saved the lives of eight men whose boat had capsized in 25-foot swells.
Using only his surfboard.
The limited-release documentary Waterman (unrated with one expletive) details Duke’s accomplishments in an era when sports competitions regularly excluded minorities. The film interweaves testimonials from present-day surfers and other admirers, dramatizations of Duke’s aquatic feats, and clips from a 1959 episode of This Is Your Life. One of the surprise guests on that show was Tarzan actor Johnny Weissmuller, Duke’s friend who won gold to Duke’s silver at the 1924 Olympics.
The film notes that while Weissmuller found leading Hollywood roles, the dark-complected Duke landed only bit parts. Humble and quiet, he apparently never complained. Instead, he practiced “aloha”—defined by interviewees as love, hospitality, and care for nature—until the end of his life in 1968.
While “aloha” seemingly summed up Duke’s spirituality, his biological niece Sonia Lien, described abandonment and abuse then conversion to Christ in the book From Alone to Aloha.
Jesus: He’s the Aloha and the Omega.
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