The History of Hawai‘i From Our Files: Olympian Duke Kahanamoku

HONOLULU Magazine emerged from predecessor Paradise of the Pacific, which began in 1888, fulfilling a commission by King Kalākaua. That makes this the oldest continuously published magazine west of the Mississippi with an enviable archive worth diving into each month. Here’s a look back at November 1921.

Duke Kahanamoku Photo P13 Nov1921 2



“The Playground of the World,” declares the headline on a story breathlessly describing the many sports happening in Hawai‘i in the 1920’s, including fishing, surfing and swimming. Paradise takes time to praise a distinctive swimming stroke of Hawai‘i swimmers. “It is not the Australian crawl, which was adapted from the Hawaiian stroke. That the Hawaiian stroke is the most scientific for speed, distance and comfort there is no question, for it has become the only stroke used by speed and distance swimmers in the world over.”


SEE ALSO: The History of Hawai‘i From Our Files: Hawai‘i’s Olympians


The writer describes both lesser-known and world-famous swimmers, including Olympian Duke Kahanamoku, known for setting world freestyle speed records; his brother, Sam, the world champion breast stroke swimmer; and Warren Kealoha, a world champion at backstroke. When the Olympics added surfing as a sport in for the 2020 games, two of the four U.S. surfers tapped to compete call Hawai‘i home, suggesting that some traditions endure.


SEE ALSO: Olympic Surfing Gold Fulfills Duke’s Dream—and Moore


Nov 21 Playground Of The World Story Palama Girls



Paradise featured a photo of The Pālama Settlement Girls’ Swimming team with this description: “These Kids are All Racers and Have Given a Good Account of Themselves in All the Big Swim Meets at Honolulu:  Some of Them Have Pressed the Older Champions so Hard that Records Have Been Broken in Consequence.” But the Duke Kahanamoku caption astounds: “This is the best photograph ever taken of the world’s greatest swimmer, and perhaps the most remarkable picture ever made of any athlete. He has just finished the race in the Olympic Games at Antwerp, where he successfully defended the title won ten years before at Stockholm. Note the light of battle still shining in his eyes and the splendid muscles not yet relaxed.”


11 21 Hm Fof Web Covers


Learn more about the evolution of covers in HONOLULU Magazine and Paradise of the Pacific: 125 Years of Covers, available at



Find more photos from Honolulu’s past every Thursday on Instagram @honolulumag.