Thursday, August 28, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

"Surfer Duke" and the pilfered leis

So ... you may have wondered who that chiseled, bare-chested guy is who greets you as you leave the show and start walking down the Grand Hall Concourse, just before the Subaru exhibit. He's "Surfer Duke," and believe it or not, there's a story behind him. Before we get to that .. as you can see, he had armloads of fresh leis today. He did yesterday, too, but I don't know, maybe folks thought the leis were there for the taking. In any event, enough helped themselves to Duke's floral garlands that his arms were naked by the end of the day. Now there's a rope around him, but this is Philly. You expect that to stop anyone?

"Surfer Duke" and the pilfered leis

So ... you may have wondered who that chiseled, bare-chested guy is who greets you as you leave the show and start walking down the Grand Hall Concourse, just before the Subaru exhibit. He's "Surfer Duke," and believe it or not, there's a story behind him. Before we get to that .. as you can see, he had armloads of fresh leis today. He did yesterday, too, but I don't know, maybe folks thought the leis were there for the taking. In any event, enough helped themselves to Duke's floral garlands that his arms were naked by the end of the day. Now there's a rope around him, but this is Philly. You expect that to stop anyone?

Duke, it turns out, was a real person - Duke Paoa Kahinu Mokoe Hulikohola Kahanamoku, born in 1890 in Honolulu, where he also died in 1968. Duke, as he was known, was a famous swimmer and surfer, winning three gold and two silver medals in four different Olympics, finishing second to Johnny Weissmuller in the 100-meter freestyle in 1924. He was also an Olympic water polo player in 1932.

Between all that, he travelled the world giving swimming and surfing exhibitions. He's credited with introducing surfing to the U.S. - remember, Hawaii didn't become a state till 1959 - in Southern California, in 1912. 

There's apparently a monument to Duke and his surfboard, which was made of wood and famous in its own right, at Waikiki beach in Honolulu. The custom is to honor him by placing leis on his arms, which is what Subaru is trying to emulate at the show. The Subaru team says the statue of Duke was altered to make his features look more like the famous Hawaiian.

So take a look. But please don't touch - or take. And be patient. It's probably only a matter of time before Duke gets moved to the art museum.

Virginia A. Smith Inquirer Staff Writer
About this blog
Ginny Smith, a Philadelphia native, joined the Inquirer at 1985. After stints as both reporter and editor in the city and suburbs, she’s been happily writing – and learning - about gardening full time since 2006. She’s won two silver medals of achievement from the national Garden Writers Association and in 2011, Bartram’s Garden honored her with its Green Exemplar award for her stories about “the region’s deeply rooted horticultural history, cultural attractions and bountiful gardens.” She plays in her own – mostly - bountiful garden in East Falls. Reach Virginia A. at vsmith@phillynews.com .

Virginia A. Smith Inquirer Staff Writer
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