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Hawai‘i’s Ambassador Hits The Big Screen

Waterman, a documentary that depicts Duke Kahanamoku’s life, hits theaters April 1. PHOTO COURTESY THE PARAGON AGENCY

The wait is finally over — the Duke Kahanamoku documentary, titled Waterman, can be seen in theaters this weekend, April 1. The film, which is narrated by Jason Momoa, explores Kahanamoku’s life, and his impact on sports as a legendary swimmer and surfer.

The Olympic medalist shattered records and is considered the father of modern-day surfing. The original documentary by Sidewinder Films contains commentary from surfers like Kelly Slater, Carissa Moore and Kelia Moniz, along with interviews from numerous watermen and waterwomen.

Brian Keaulana, whose father knew Kahanamoku, is one of the watermen featured in the film.

“Being a waterman is really about the lifestyle,” Keaulana shares. “It’s really having a lot of knowledge and a lot of skills about the ocean — how to survive, how to play, how to work.”

Duke Kahanamoku’s Olympic debut took place in Stockholm, Sweden in 1912. PHOTO COURTESY T. DELAVEGA FAMILY COLLECTION

One of his favorite parts of the movie is when it revisits Kahanamoku helping to rescue numerous people from a sinking yacht off of Corona del Mar, California. Keaulana notes that helping others, even if it means putting yourself in harm’s way, is the mark of a true waterman, and that Kahanamoku was just that.

“This film is for the whole ‘ohana,” states Duane DeSoto, who plays Kahanamoku in the film. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to share Duke’s legacy of aloha with our keiki and ensure they understand their kuleana to perpetuate the same values that Duke stood for in and out of the water.”

Duke Kahanamoku, portrayed by Duane DeSoto, catches a wave upside down in the documentary. PHOTO COURTESY WATERMAN

In addition to his impact on sports and lifesaving, the film also discusses how Kahanamoku combated prejudice while sharing his philosophy of inclusion.

“The land doesn’t divide us, it’s the water that connects us,” Keaulana shares. “When we’re in the ocean, we’re all equal. The ocean doesn’t say you’re different.”

Being that Kahanamoku is such a celebrated figure in Polynesian heritage, Waterman serves as a personal project for director Isaac Halasima. His uncle, Jan Gordon Fisher, even sculpted the famous statue of Kahanamoku in Waikīkī.

To celebrate the film’s theater release, the cast and crew gathered together in Waikīkī. PHOTO COURTESY WATERMAN

“As a fellow Polynesian-American, I’ve always looked at Duke as a hero,” states Halasima. “Waterman is my chance to honor Duke Kahanamoku, a Native Hawaiian who was able to use the ancient teachings and philosophies of his culture to change the world going forward.”

David Ulich, one of the producers, shares that while Waterman is an educational film about Kahanamoku, he hopes the documentary challenges people to live better lives.

“I think people are inspired because I think what he did transcends surfing,” Ulich says. “Obviously he was a great surfer and he was a great swimmer, but there are a lot of great surfers and a lot of great swimmers. But they don’t really have the approach to life that he had.

“One of the big messages of the film is the spirit of aloha,” Ulich says. “I’ve been in situations where somebody doesn’t treat me quite the way I should be treated. I catch myself just thinking ‘What would Duke do?’ and instead of being angry, I just take a breath and I try to turn the conversation around in a positive way.”

Waterman can be viewed in theaters throughout the state. For more information, visit watermanthemovie.com.