American Masters: Waterman-Duke: Ambassador of Aloha explores five-time Olympic medalist Duke Kahanamoku’s life, career and struggles with prejudice. As a dark-skinned Pacific Islander, Kahanamoku broke through racial barriers with athletic accomplishments before Joe Louis, Jesse Owens and Jackie Robinson; yet relatively few outside of Hawaii know the details of his inspiring story and considerable impact. Narrated by Jason Momoa (Aquaman, Game of Thrones, Dune), this new documentary reveals Kahanamoku’s influence on surfing’s global spread, his life-saving achievements and the obstacles he conquered both within and outside the sporting world. The documentary premieres nationwide on Tuesday, May 10 at 9:00 p.m. EsT on PBS.
Using rare archival footage, contemporary visuals and new interviews with Laird Hamilton (big wave surfer), Kelly Slater (11-time world champion surfer), Carissa Moore (Olympic surfing gold medalist), David Davis (author, Waterman), and others, the documentary presents Kahanamoku’s rise to fame and how he became the face of a changing Hawaii as it evolved from an isolated island kingdom to a multi-ethnic American paradise.
David Davis’s Waterman (Nebraska, 2015) is the first comprehensive biography of Duke Kahanamoku (1890-1968). Long before Michael Phelps and Mark Spitz made their splashes in the pool, Kahanamoku emerged from the backwaters of Waikiki to become America’s first superstar Olympic swimmer. The original “human fish” set dozens of world records and topped the world rankings for more than a decade; his rivalry with Johnny Weissmuller transformed competitive swimming from an insignificant sideshow into a headliner event.