Reenacting Duke’s 100-year-old Ride

A large, appreciative crowd applauds in unison as Duane DeSoto walks toward the waiting surf at Australia’s Freshwater Beach. The former world longboard surfing champion is beaming with pride, knowing he is carrying a piece of surfing history on his muscular shoulders.

Each step he takes is significant and symbolic. DeSoto is retracing the steps once taken by the great Duke Kahanamoku 100 years ago.

It was Jan. 10, 1915, when Kahanamoku introduced surfing to Australia. It was his gift to the Land Down Under.

“The chance to represent Hawaii and the Duke was purely an honor,” says DeSoto. “By no means would I ever compare myself to Duke Kahanamoku, let alone assume that I could fill his shoes in a reenactment. I humbly embraced the opportunity and attempted to portray the grace and aloha that Duke is so famous for.”

DeSoto says the chance-ofa-lifetime opportunity came after a delegation from Australia traveled to Waikiki during the 2014 Outrigger Duke Kahanamoku Foundation’s Duke’s Ocean Fest with a replica of Duke’s 1915 surfboard.

“Eric Middledrop was in charge of letting candidates try the replica in an audition, so to say,” says DeSoto. “While trying the board, I also took my 9-year-old daughter Puamakamae tandem surfing on the replica. This amazed the Australians who knew Duke had tandem surfed but weren’t sure how he was able to do it. They also were surprised that I could carry the board by myself.”

If you’re thinking what’s the big deal, it is a big deal — literally. Carrying a traditional Hawaiian surfboard alone is no easy task. The Duke replica is 8 feet and 6 inches long and weighs about 90 pounds.

“Guess I also was fortunate to surf traditional Hawaiian surfboards crafted by Pohaku Stone over the last seven years, which gave me lots of riding time on these hefty works of art,” says DeSoto.

DeSoto recalls sitting patiently in the lineup for the right wave to come. When it did, he says the replica rode like a Cadillac.

“It took five times the pressure to paddle the board around, but once it was on the wave it rode smooth as silk,” says DeSoto. “The board did the work. In fact, riding the replica is exactly what you have to do, ride it. Unlike modern surfboards that are made to respond instantly, Duke’s board tells you what it wants to do and you respond to the board — make magic.”

It was one of several magical moments for everyone on the beach. Another came when a young Australian girl named Lilly surfed tandem with DeSoto.

“Lilly was playing the part of Isabelle Lathem, Australia’s first surfer,” says DeSoto. “Lilly successfully auditioned against three other young surfers. When practicing with her prior to the actual event, her dad was more nervous then she was. He had no idea if I could surf the board, let alone handle the 90-pound board and his daughter safely in a shore-break-style wave. Lilly was excited and had a great time. I can only assume that Isabelle would have been just as excited and happy when she surfed for her first time with Duke.”

It was a celebration DeSoto says he will never forget and one that reminded him of how much respect the rest of the world had for the great Duke Kahanamoku.

“It’s truly amazing how one person, Duke Kahanamoku, could influence a country and the world,” says DeSoto. “Duke Kahanamoku is someone who everyone who calls Hawaii home can be proud of.”

To watch a video clip of the reenactment ride, go to http://youtu.be/AfkDJNQrBZk.

rkmizutani@gmail.com