Duke Kahanamoku

He was tall and broad-shouldered, with high cheekbones, and a radiant smile—“the most magnificent human male God ever put on earth,” as one admirer put it. Surfing would have caught on without Duke. But not as quickly, and not with the same opening bolt of style and élan.

Despite the vaudevillian nature of the beachboys, Waikiki was often referred to as “Society’s winter paradise.” Early Hawaii Tourist Bureau brochures didn’t just describe the islands’ dancing waters and shimmering rainbows and gleaming coral sands. They also gave assurances that visitors were of the right sort—“Cosmopolites lured from the far reaches of the earth”—and that tennis, golf, tea, and b...

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