Spirit Of The Duke Is Alive In Waikiki

'Mr. Lifeguard' Ralph Goto and the author at the 13th annual Duke's OceanFest opening ceremony. PHOTO COURTESY RALPH GOTO

‘Mr. Lifeguard’ Ralph Goto and the author at the 13th annual Duke’s OceanFest opening ceremony. PHOTO COURTESY RALPH GOTO

He was the true and official Ambassador of Aloha. Universally put on a pedestal by his fans for his love of the ocean and its people, he was a man of few words but spoke volumes through his remarkable command of the ocean, impressive abilities as the world’s fastest swimmer of his era, and a peacekeeper as the sheriff of his town.Mr. Lifeguard’ Ralph Goto

It is my honor to pay tribute this week to world surf champ phenomenon and former film actor, the late Duke Kahanamoku (1890-1968). We all admire his multiple Olympic medals, including three golds in swimming, but what’s just as impressive is that “The Father of International Surfing” continues to inspire thousands of watermen and waterwomen who emerged after his passing. Today, they serve as “Duke’s Disciples” by carrying out his legacy.

It is customary for these legendary water enthusiasts and Duke’s fans to swarm Waikiki Beach leading up to Aug. 24 every year to commemorate his birthday at and around a monumental bronze statue created by award-winning artist and former Brigham Young University art professor Jan Gordon Fisher.

I was honored to have participated in the opening ceremonies Aug. 16 at the 13th annual Duke’s OceanFest. It always has been one of my favorite events the city supported strongly when I was mayor because of my deep affinity for “The Duke” and for our county lifeguards. Island residents and visitors were thrilled to take part in ocean contests, beach competitions and special events, which included surfing for kids, teens, amateurs and pros — as well as stand-up paddling, a one-mile ocean swim, lifeguarding, surfboard water polo, a Wounded Warrior canoe regatta, paddle boarding and beach volleyball — the list is long. All proceeds benefited Outrigger Duke Kahanamoku Foundation.

“Every event and activity in Duke’s OceanFest played a major role in the life led by The Duke,” says 2013-14 Outrigger Duke Kahanamoku Foundation board member Ralph Goto. “He was an Olympic swimmer and the greatest surfer who came out of here. He kept our beaches safe as a lifeguard, and introduced surfing to Australia and throughout the world. Duke was known for riding huge waves that were unthinkable back in the day. He laid the foundation for lifeguards because he was a respected waterman,” he adds.

Goto, a respected waterman himself, recalls his first day on the job as a lifeguard for the city.

“I was being oriented on Waikiki Beach with my captain at the time showing me around. We saw a crowd gathering after a lifeguard had pulled a kid out of the water by Kapahulu Groin, adjacent to the Waikiki Wall,” recalls Goto. “The kid was not breathing, he had no pulse. He was dead! The three lifeguards on duty persistently took turns doing CPR, and eventually brought the child back to life.”

That moving experience opened his heart and set the tone for a lifelong career in water safety. It affected him greatly, and it was then that he realized it was the caretakers of the beach and lifeguards up in towers who needed all the support, proper training and equipment city administrators could muster.

Now retired, Goto made it his life’s mission when he was the city’s Ocean Safety administrator in the Ocean Safety and Lifeguard Services Division to fight for these watermen and water-women throughout his career, and he earned the reputation of being an effective advocate in getting government officials to back water-safety programs.

Duke’s OceanFest organizers paid tribute to their legendary heroes at the 2014 Hawaii Waterman Hall of Fame. Inducted were watersports legends whose lifetime of contributions have inspired and perpetuated Duke’s love for the water, including were Olympic swim coach George David “Dad” Center; Pipeline surf break lifeguard and world-renowned bodysurfer Mark Cunningham; championship surfer, kayaker and 1961 winner of the Makaha International Surfing Championship Anona Napoleon; Triple Crown of Surfing annual surf contest executive director Randy Rarick, and Olympic swimmer and spearfisherman Sonny Tanabe.

Another one of Hawaii’s renowned surfing ambassadors, former state Sen. Fred Hemmings, says it best: “Duke’s legacy is a spiritual one that is embodied in the word ‘aloha.’ … There have been many renowned leaders in Hawaiian history, including Kamehameha the Great, political figures, religious and business leaders. But the most-revered man in our modern-day Hawaii is Duke Kahanamoku because he symbolizes the aloha spirit, and it was not because of his vast fortune or political clout. The testimony of his greatness is that he is the most respected symbol of Hawaii today.”

The symbol Hemmings speaks of is the Duke Kahanamoku sculpture in Waikiki, which he was instrumental in unveiling to the world on Duke’s 100th birthday. Today, millions of visitors from around the globe are greeted by the bronze statue with open arms, but with Duke Kahanamoku’s back toward the ocean.

It is perhaps, a symbol and a message sent to the new generation of noble ocean enthusiasts and lifeguards from the greatest waterman who ever lived: “Enjoy, ‘cuz The Duke’s got your back!”