Senior Editor

The Inertia

One of the greatest websites floating around on the vast sea of the internet (apart from this one, of course) is Matt Warshaw’s Encylopedia of Surfing. It’s a veritable gold mine of surfing history, minutiae, and extraordinarily interesting bits of trivia. It was there, on my daily post-surf perusal of things to write about, that I ran into this. It’s Duke himself in all his glory, rescuing a damsel in distress.

Warshaw’s got a good write up about films in the ’20s and ’30s. You should read it. I’ll sum it up here for those too lazy to click one button: according to Matt, 90% of all American-made films made before 1930 are gone. They were all burned up, thrown in the trash, or just simply lost. At least 12 of those included our very own father of surfing, Duke Kahanamoku.

Everyone knows Duke’s story. Born a decade before the turn of the 20th century in 1890, Duke won five Olympic medals for swimming. He many things, as well–an actor, businessman, and according to Wikipedia, a law enforcement officer. But above all, he was the original spreader of stoke. He loved surfing, he loved the ocean, and he wanted everyone else to, as well.


“Duke Kahanamoku’s entire pre-war Hollywood oeuvre—12 movies, from 1925 to 1930—were wiped out,” Warshaw writes. “Granted, there wasn’t much there to begin with. Duke was bit player; some of his parts went uncredited. Then again, as one awestruck admirer put it, he was “the most magnificent human male God ever put on the earth,” and in his rugged prime during the ’20s, and while photos of Duke are plentiful and wonderful, you’d like to see him in motion—hair waving, eyes flashing, muscles torquing.”

But rising from the ashes of Hollywood’s lost library is this little chunk of gold. It’s from a serial called Isle of Sunken Gold, filmed in 1927. It’s been collecting dust in Holland for the last seven decades. Now, through the magic of technology, it’s been restored… and so has Duke.

“I ripped all 65 minutes of Sunken Gold from YouTube last Friday,” Warshaw explains. “The idea was to just pick out the Duke footage, slap it together, and post on his Encyclopedia page, but I ended up going all D.W. Griffith.”

See more incredible surfing history over at Encyclopedia of Surfing.


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