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Duke
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 by Ron Cruger
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C
  Enormous crowds lined the sands of Waikiki Beach. Old timers had never seen such a mass of people. Not since the statehood celebration in 1959 had so many assembled in one place in Hawaii. From Queen’s Beach on one side to Ala Moana Beach on the other the thousands gathered early and lined up ten and twenty deep. Only a few had met him personally. But everyone knew of him. They were all there to offer their Aloha to this man who had become a living legend. Now the flesh of the man was gone but the spirit would remain in Hawaii’s soul forever. Whenever the men, the Kane, or the women, the Wahine, gathered on the sands or the waters of the ocean the spirit of Duke would appear in their minds. The thousands that assembled that day in Waikiki noticed that the skies were unusually gray. Clouds drifted from Diamond Head to past Barber’s Point. The sun appeared to be unsure of whether to poke through the grayness or remain behind a cloak of clouds.
          It was January 27, 1968, Duke Kahanamoku, had passed away five days before. All Hawaiians, in blood or in spirit were deeply saddened.
          Duke was born August 24, 1890 and grew up on the outskirts of Waikiki. His Hawaiian name was Duke Paoa Kahinu Mokoe Hulikohola Kahanamoku
          Some knew of him because he had become an Olympic gold medal winner in 1912. Others because he was singly responsible for the popularization of surfing. He is a member of the Surfing, Swimming and Olympics Halls of Fame. Later in his life he became Sheriff of Honolulu. He appeared in numerous Hollywood films, mostly as a character actor.
          In 1924, at age 34, he qualified for the Paris Olympics and raced against the twenty-year old, soon-to-be Tarzan, Johnny Weissmuller. In 1934, at age 42 he again qualified for the Olympics, winning a bronze medal on the water polo team.
          And yet, what endeared him in Hawaii and around the world was his concern for others, his humility in victory and his good sportsmanship in defeat. He displayed a massive gentleness.
          . I had met Duke the same evening I was introduced to famous Hawaiian entertainer, Don Ho. The pair was celebrating the opening of Duke’s nightclub in Waikiki. Duke was an elderly man by then, only months away from his final days, but his carriage was distinctly royal. He was tall, handsome and his Hawaiian skin was brought to an even darker tone by his lifetime of riding the ocean’s waves. His smile was genuine – from his soul.
          We shook hands and then he guided me to a table with two chairs. He sat across from me and asked, “Where are you from?” I answered and then we talked of his beloved Hawaii and its unique place among the world’s lands. He said that he was happiest when he was in the water, swimming like a fish. After ten minutes he held his hand out for mine. Shook it again and said, “My aloha goes with you.” He smiled and went on to greet the others.
          A few months later Duke died.
          Now I was among the thousands, filling Waikiki to offer our final Aloha to Duke.
          Waikiki’s main road, Kalakaua Avenue, was absent of its normal auto traffic. Sidewalks and the thoroughfare were filled with the crush of those wanting to be closer to the ceremony.
          Above, the skies grew grayer. The sun was still undecided on its place.
          Standing on the soft sands behind the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, the Reverend Abraham Akaka, pastor of Hawaii’s Kawaiahao Church, spoke with tearful eyes expressing the sorrow of all present. He spoke of the joy that was shared by the many who had known Duke. He spoke of the giant that Duke was. He reminded all of the Ali’I (nobility) that was Duke Kahanamoku.
          When pastor Akaka, with tears flowing, finished, he nodded to his left, where Hawaii’s beach boys were standing. The group of middle aged men, in their swim trunks, began singing their farewell to Duke – “Aloha oe.” The thousands were silent, listening, tears flowing.
          The beach boys were offering their final Aloha to the man they all admired. “Aloha oe.”
          Reverend Akaka carried the box containing Duke’s ashes towards the meeting of ocean and sand. Duke’s wife Nadine walked beside the Reverend.
          When they reached the line of a dozen or more outrigger canoes, gently bobbing with the flow of the surf, the Reverend and Nadine climbed into the lead outrigger canoe.
          The paddlers began their exercise. Swiftly the canoes reached the coral reef a thousand yards off the surf of Waikiki. The good Reverend and Duke’s loving Nadine spread Duke’s ashes on the loving sea. Duke’s place.
          With the last bit of ashes poured the outrigger canoes slowly, majestically, all turned landward. There was a hesitation as they all toed an imaginary line on the waters. All facing the sands of Waikiki.
          There was a hush in Hawaii. Silence throughout Waikiki.
          Suddenly the paddles found the ocean again. Furiously, the paddlers poked their paddles deeply and stroked. It was a race. In honor of Duke.
          The canoes sprinted towards land. The crowd began to cheer, not for a winner, but for the meaning of what was happening before their eyes. A tribute to Duke.
          The outrigger canoes reached the sands of Waikiki. The paddles were withdrawn from the waters. The paddlers breathed heard. As one they just sat, paddles on their laps, they stared ahead. Some wept.
          Above, the sun hid behind the gray clouds.
          And just then, a gentle rain fell on the Duke’s ashes and on the thousands who had come to say “Aloha oe.”
          Hawaii’s skies wept.