Today is the 120th birthday of the ultimate Hawai’i waterman, Duke Kahanamoku: Olympic swimming champion, surfer, diver, paddler and sailor.And it’s the 83rd birthday of the Waikiki Natatorium War Memorial, inaugurated by Duke with a ceremonial first swim on Aug. 24, 1927, the day the champion turned 37.
That ceremony kicked off the four-day AAU National Outdoor Swimming Championships, a meet studded with stars like Johnny Weissmuller, Buster Crabbe and Japan’s Katsuo “Flying Fish” Takaishi. According to a Honolulu Star-Bulletin account, “Opening night attracted 6,000 people. … The Natatorium was packed with spectators — as was every tree outside with a view of the pool.” After the meet, an international swimming official called the Natatorium “one of the best, if not the best, swimming arenas in the world.”
The Natatorium was built as a living memorial to more than 10,000 men and women from Hawai’i who served in the Great War. The 1921 Legislature’s Act 15 decreed that the memorial should include “a swimming course of no less than 100 meters” to perpetuate Hawaii’s storied swimming legacy.
Through the years, many other Olympians, celebrated swimmers and watermen followed in the Duke’s wake at the Natatorium. Generations of Hawaii’s children learned to swim in its waters; it was one of Waikiki’s most beloved gathering places.
So, happy birthday to two of Waikiki’s great, Duke Kahanamoku and the Natatorium!
Today through Saturday, remember Duke by taking part in Duke’s OceanFest 2010.
Then, this Sunday, Aug. 29, join Titus Kinimaka, Henry Kapono, A Touch of Gold and more at the “Stand Up for the Natatorium” benefit concert at The Shack Waikiki. Hear great music; have a great time; support a great cause: the restoration and revival of the Waikiki Natatorium War Memorial. Details here. Tickets (just $20!) here.