Author David Davis returns to the show to talk about his book Waterman: The Life and Times of Duke Kahanamoku, about the legendary 3x Olympic medalist and surfing pioneer. David’s book has been turned into a documentary that will air on PBS’ American Masters in May.
Duke Kahanamoku won back-to-back gold medals in the 100m freestyle at the 1912 and 1920 Summer Olympics. He also won silver at the 1924 Summer Olympics, just losing out to Johnny Weissmuller, in an Olympic career that spanned a whopping 12 years.
If it weren’t for Duke, surfing might not have become the sport it is today. Duke spread his love of surfing around the world, essentially starting surfing cultures in California and Australia.
Apparently, it wouldn’t be an episode if we didn’t make a reference to something that’s from days gone by. Alison does this honors this week with a Don Ho reference:
Follow David on Twitter and check out his website for his other work. You can get his books (and support the show) by shopping through our Bookshop.org storefront.
Also on today’s show, we have:
- An Albertville 1992 Winter Olympic first
- News from TKFLASTAN, including news from snowboarder Chloe Kim, beach volleyball player Kelly Cheng and sailors Stephanie Roble and Maggie Shea.
- Updates from Paris 2024 and Milan-Cortina 2026
Thanks so much for listening, and until next time, keep the flame alive!
Note: While we make efforts to ensure the accuracy of this transcript, it is machine-generated and likely contains errors. Please use the audio recording as the record of note.
Jill: [00:00:00] This episode is sponsored by Winter\Victor Studios.
Hello fans of TKFLASTAN and welcome to another episode of Keep the Flame Alive, the podcast for fans of the Olympics and Paralympics. I am your host, Jill Jaracz joined as always by my lovely co-host, Alison Brown. Alison. Hello, how are you?
Alison: Hello, you can’t tell, but I am wearing my favorite mumu today.
Jill: How come?
Alison: For our guest.
Alison: I might start playing some Don Ho “Tiny Bubbles” in the background, but I don’t think we have clearance to use that.
Jill: But we could put a link out there. I would love to know how many people still know who Don Ho is.
Alison: I know it, you know, we made em, I was doing some transcripts today, from last week’s show and we talked about Merv Griffin. And I put it in the newsletter. Go ask your grandmother. So this is another, go ask your grandmother who Don Ho is.
Jill: Well, before we get to this week’s interview and our guests, we’d like to thank Winter\Victor Studio for sponsoring the show. Winter\Victor Studio believes a sport and, beautiful design go hand in hand, and that a designer’s versatility is just as important as an athlete’s dexterity.
Winter\victor provides distinctive graphic design to clients in sport from logos to digital communications. Winter\Victor brings the same passion to design that our clients bring to the field of play. Add a responsive and versatile designer to your team at wintervictor.com.
All right, today we are welcoming back author David Davis. You may remember David from when we talked with him about his book Wheels of Courage on the history of wheelchair basketball. One of his other books called Waterman, which is on the life of Olympian and surfing pioneer Duke Kahanamoku has been turned into a documentary, also called Waterman.
We sat with down with David and talked with him about this legend of the water. Take a listen.
David, welcome back to the show. Thank you so much for being here. This is really exciting. Your book Waterman has been turned into a movie and will be on PBS. It’s about the life and times of Duke Kahanamoku. How did you get interested in the story of Duke Kahanamoku?
David Davis: Yeah, well, it’s, it’s funny because it relates to the first sort of narrative book I did, which was Showdown at Shepherd’s Bush, which was about the 1908 London Olympics.
And as you know, that was, I centered that about around the marathon, race Durando Pietre, Johnny Hayes, and London Olympics in 1908, sort of being the first modern games with a new stadium and rivalry and media and all that sorta good stuff to make it a juicy story. So there was some overlap from that, from the research I was doing about 1908 to 1912 Olympics, like Johnny Hayes who, you know, end up winning the marathon. He was the coach of the marathon team. And there were some other athletes who were in 1908 who were in 1912. So just sort of doing my due diligence of the 1912 Olympics, which were also very important, crucial pre-World War I, as you well know.
And in terms of doing the research well, there’s a lot of stuff about Jim Thorpe. There’s several biographies and one more coming, you know, David Maraniss’, which is coming real soon.
Jill: We’re excited about that.
David Davis: Right. But I couldn’t find really anything or what I wanted to see. I wanted to see a, a Duke Kahanamoku biography, because basically he was the second or third, most famous, popular US athlete coming out of 1912 Olympics. And it was in part because he was different he was Hawaiian, dark skin, and also just an amazing athlete. And so when he came back to America to the mainland in 1912, he was one of the two or three, sort of big stars. Thorpe and him. And so I started, you know, looking for that biography. And frankly I didn’t find it. If I had found it, I would have moved on to the next idea, but I didn’t. And actually, when I was finishing up [00:05:00] Showdown at Shepherd’s Bush, I made a trip to Hawaii just to sort of scout, you know, the turf and just see what’s out there.
And, before I think even Showdown was published, I was already going, this is going to be my next book. So to me, it was just a fascinating, untold story of an American sports hero who had sort of been forgotten except in of course, Hawaii and in surf culture
Alison: And I’m so I like you was so surprised because it touches so many different points. You have that World War I interruption of his Olympic career. You have that early Hollywood, you have the interweaving of Hawaiian history, Doris Duke, making a cameo in this story, and then the emergence of surf culture. It seems just so right for, I feel like there should have been a 1950s Elvis movie about this. It was just such a fascinating story on, on so many levels.
David Davis: Absolutely. And you know, your point about the interruption with World War I and then him coming back at a relatively, certainly at that point, older age, I guess he would have been around 30, in 1920, and he leads the charge of Hawaiian swimmers that, that sweep all sorts of medals.
And obviously we know coming out of World War I, some of the teams, of course, unfortunately weren’t as well-stocked with, let’s face it, young men, and Germany I think was banned and Soviet Union wasn’t around. So the competition was a little bit different than let’s say 1912, or certainly 1924. I mean, Duke’s, you know, had that within him to keep going to serve as a mentor to those young Hawaiian swimmers in 1920.
And then we get to Paris in 1924 and, Duke sort of sidling out the door, but he’s still good enough to beat everybody except, the great Johnny Weissmuller who, sort of becomes this American icon and, you know, dot dot dot, Tarzan, et cetera, et cetera. So unfortunately like Duke has this great record at the Olympics and yet he gets very much overshadowed in the sort of roaring twenties of sports.
And, you know, Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, all these guys, Weissmuller sort of attains that top spot for Olympic swimmers, at least in the, you know, in the American circles. And, and again, sort of Duke gets a little bit forgot.
Jill: Talk to us a little bit about how he was chosen to be in 1912, because Hawaii at the time is a territory of the U S. There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot that people in the mainland know about this country.
David Davis: No, absolutely. Very, very, very little. And his is a story. There’s a, there’s some serendipity in all of this in the sense of let’s face it, he probably wouldn’t have attained the Olympics without the U S imperialism, frankly, taking over Hawaii for its strategic value in the Pacific. So that was one thing very much as he starting his career, the AAU, which was AAU Amateur Athletic Union uh, was the main governing body of US amateur sports, which means the Olympics much more prominent than let’s say the NCAA at that point.
And just around the time that Duke is, becoming, you know, a man and, being able to be competitive, the AAU has its foothold in Hawaii. So really one of the first main swimming competitions is in 1911, and he sets all sorts of records. They send the results to the main office in New York.
This is Sullivan’s AAU in the main office and they look at these records and go no way. This is impossible. And it’s very much a… looking at, they don’t know anything about Hawaii and to them, this upstart with a name they can’t even pronounce breaking major records.
I think it was Charlie Daniels was the, the big swimmer back then. And he was very much connected with the, you know, New York Athletic Club and that sort of clique back east. And they said, no way. And by the way, this was done at an outdoor, you know, in Honolulu Harbor, and here are New York people who’ve never even been there commenting about the tides and which way the water was flowing as if they know what the heck they’re talking about.
So [00:10:00] really Duke had to come to the mainland. First time he ever had traveled. Came to the mainland in early 1912 to prove himself and to be able to sort of qualify for the U S team. And he has some uh, failures in the beginning. He was not used to swimming indoors and he had some issues and finally they were straightened out and they, the swimming experts in America realized, okay, wait a second. This guy knows what he’s doing, and he’s, we need him on our team. And from that point on, he was considered a, a major American threat for a medal.
Alison: What did the average American think of the Olympics in 1912? How aware were they of its existence even?
David Davis: That’s a very good question. I would say spotty at best. I mean, certainly as you you all know as historians, you know, it was covered in the major newspapers and, and again, 1908 being that it was London, there was quite a bit going back and forth and that involved the rivalry. There were a lot of Irish American athletes on the 1908 team, so when they went to England, there was a big rivalry and, and that was written about a lot. How much of this extended into, the Midwest and the South, et cetera, very good question. And certainly back then in the South there would have been, racism, race, prejudice, and so African-American athletes wouldn’t have been able to even qualify for a spot on the team.
So it, it was starting to build, I mean, remember, I mean, Coubertin. This had only started in 1896, so it was still, you know, percolating. It really hadn’t– and the one time we had it here St. Louis in 1904 was sort of a disaster. You know, a lot of people didn’t even know that they were part of the Olympics, so it was a slow build.
But certainly 1908 and 1912 were very important in terms of, obviously not knowing that a world war was going to happen, but they were instrumental in setting a tone so that after the war there was enough of a groundswell to start it up again in 1920, which a lot of that was also controversial.
A lot of people weren’t were thinking, gosh, you know, Belgium had just gone through hell. Are they ready? Can they even have an Olympics? And they pulled it off, but it certainly was not a smooth sail so to speak. So it, it was a slow build. And I think in the twenties, you really get, you start really building with the Olympics and it becoming more broader known and popular and that sort of thing.
And that probably relates to media, film and images that you can now see in a, you know, in a movie theater and things like that.
Jill: You mentioned race. Duke is not white, so he’s Hawaiian, looks different. In 1912, also featured Jim Thorpe, American Indian, and it also featured everybody’s favorite Olympic racist, Avery Brundage.
So how. It’s interesting because in the book you talk a little bit about Jim Thorpe and Duke becoming friends, especially on the, boat rides that they had to take to get to the Olympics. So tell us a little bit about how their friendship worked and what it was like for them as non-whites in this very, very white culture.
David Davis: Yeah, it’s, it’s an interesting, very, very interesting question and very complicated question. From what I could tell there was certainly mutual respect among the athletes. I think that’s always, well, not always been the case. I think that there’s a respect among competitors, that sort of thing.
Certainly you couldn’t watch Jim Thorpe without, exalting his ability and his, you know, how he could handle all of this. And I mean, you bring up Avery Brundage. I mean, this is someone who is very controversial and covers from 1912 to 1972. I mean, just an amazing breadth of life uh, and Olympic whether you like it or not, he’s certainly a major figure.
So I, and I don’t want to feel like I’m an evading this, this question. We know that Duke, when he was on the mainland, did experience racism and prejudice in part, because of ignorance. People looked at him. And with very few people having gone to Hawaii or even encountered someone from Hawaii, many of them looked at him as if he was African-American, and there are reports that he [00:15:00] was turned down, sitting in restaurants and things like that while he was in the mainland.
The other thing that was sort of interesting if you will, when you talk about there, you know, you talk about on the ship going over. Well here, you’ve got everybody together and that sort of thing. They had evening entertainment, let’s say in 1912 that, there’s not a whole lot of, computer internet, cell phones, et cetera.
So, what do you do? Well, Duke Kahanamoku takes out his ukulele and strummed some Hawaiian songs and sings. So I think that endeared him to others. And yet at the same time, again, all of these acts going on in the, on the ship to, entertain everybody, there was blackface going on as well, where people would stand up and put, you know, put black makeup on and do their act.
So, you know, you couldn’t avoid it in that sense. But I also just to point out, I think 1912, wasn’t interesting. I mean, obviously the team was pretty small comparatively speaking. There was at least one other Native American Louis Tewa– Tewanima, who was a 10,000 and marathon runner. And he had been to the same school as Jim Thorpe at Carlyle.
And I think that was the first African-American was on the 19th. It was either 19 0 8, 19 12. So that was starting uh, I think is drew D R E w last name? I think. So that was just starting to come around. So, yeah, very complicated, very transitional. And, it’s not showing the America, it’s a very slice of American, mostly university students, athletes, and some of the club athletes, Chicago Athletic Club, New York Athletic Club, which frankly at that time were whites only, and also no women, right. Except for very few swimmers at the time.
Alison: Yeah. I thought it was interesting in the way you presented it in the book that the athletes didn’t seem to have any resentment about someone who was not white beating them, where we do see that later in later generations, but the press make a point of saying, well, you have to understand he’s Hawaiian and they’re practically born in the water. Like the press has to make the excuse of why this nonwhite is beating white swimmers.
David Davis: Yeah, very good point. Very good point. That goes back to sort of the natural quote unquote natural athlete. Like they don’t even have to train. They just, as you say, just get in the water. Somebody like Jim Thorpe just, oh, just pick up a javelin and, you know, chuck it down, you know. And that was very ,unfair. And, and certainly there was, again, if you look at the press, there was a lot of weird, I mean, what we would consider just racist cartoons that would be very stereo–, you know, stereotypes and, and so forth. So, but, but yeah, I think, in a positive way, the competitors, you know, the bottom line is, this is about competition and, you know, let the best man win.
And I think back then, certainly that was, that was part of the, Olympic credo, and I think it was very important at that time.
Jill: The fact that Duke had such a long Olympic career at a time where it was amateurs only and how he seemed to struggle to make a living for the most part, that just was really interesting to me. And how was he able to maintain such a long career? Because he was also in 24 and he was able to kind of be on the sidelines and 28 and 32, whether he was actually in the Olympics is kind of dubious.
David Davis: Yeah, no, it was, there was a lot of, I mean, I think technically he probably broke the rules of Olympic of amateur only.
You know, we were able to trace with the research. So after 1912 he returns to Hawaii. He does make a detour to surf as, as we know. But he returns to Hawaii. And the people are so enamored of him cause he has gone out and shown the world what Hawaii is all about and spread this Aloha, so to speak.
They reward him with a house, a property, technically that’s against the rules and he probably shouldn’t have been allowed to compete in 1920 and so forth. How did he sort of slip through the cracks? It’s very hard to figure that out in terms of paper, you know, where’s the paperwork on all that, but I mean,[00:20:00] I think part of it was that it was in Hawaii and nobody really cared on the mainland in New York.
They, they weren’t seeing that. So I think that’s part of it. And I think also he had over the course of his career, he sort of had power brokers behind him for good and not so good at times who sort of guided his career. And maybe they put that house in a trust so that it doesn’t technically violate any rules, that sort of thing.
Certainly he knew what he was able to do and not do. He couldn’t be a swimming star in the movies and be an Olympic Olympian. That that would not have sort of flown. And unfortunately of course, that really sort of hurt his career maybe a little bit in when he was in Hollywood in the twenties.
And that was really the only time he lived outside of Hawaii for an extended period of time. And he would train at the Los Angeles Athletic Club and so on and so forth. And they had a lot of Olympians as well over the years. So he sort of managed to dodge, the um, you know, I guess that the AAU hierarchy that was in charge of amateur professional, but I mean it, and unfortunately, and it’s an unfortunate thing certainly back then, I mean, where he couldn’t make a living as, as like a swimming instructor at one of the nice hotels, you know, and Waikiki, I mean, that would have been a perfect sort of soft job. Let him sill train and so forth and make some, make a decent salary. But that was impossible.
So it was a struggle for him. I mean, he was a high school dropout. He didn’t have a whole lot of job opportunities, especially back then, it was a sort of a sleepy Honolulu and Waikiki sort of sleepy at that point. So it’s not like there was a whole lot of jobs for somebody like him. It was, you know, be a beach boy, which was, you know, taking out the tourists on a, on a board and showing them how to surf and that sort of thing.
And that’s good for tips and that sort of thing. And a couple of meals at a restaurant, but not really a firm strategy or salary and, he had an extended family that he was also trying to help support especially after his, his father passed away at an, at a relatively young age.
So, you know, he’s trying to help out his mother with the, with all the kids and that sort of thing. So, yeah, it was, it was a struggle. Definitely.
Alison: So Duke was not a firebrand. He was not someone, you know, beating the drum for Hawaiian independence or kind of, of fighting those struggles as some later athletes who got into trouble with, with the USOPC or USOC or AAU as it was at various points.
And the way you portray him in the book is kind of a gentle spirit in many ways. And I’m wondering how that played into him kind of getting away with staying an amateur cause they wanted him.
David Davis: Right, right. I think you’re right. I think that’s part of it was his personality. He wasn’t out there saying, you know, controversial things. That was not his style.
If there were people who wanted him to say certain things, he just didn’t. That was not his style. And where did that come from? Was it his upbringing? Maybe partly was it, you know, the situation where he was born and, he sort of had to look around and go, wait, how do I navigate this world where Hawaiians have, you know, freeze for history, this was our territory. Now it’s not. How do you navigate that? And I think from a young age, he learned to sort of, . Take care of business. Deal with what he had in front of him. I think part of it is maybe the lifestyle back then he’s on the beach, and, you know, to him, what was important was being a waterman. And all of that entails. Certainly back when he was young, it was surfing, it was swimming, it was all sorts of things. I mean, I very casually mentioned this in the book and it, cause it was, it’s impossible to sort of get the history, but there’s, there’s evidence that he was among the first to invent beach volleyball back in the day, you know, and then maybe brought that to the mainland.
I mean, it sort of scans, so in that sense, he’s as you say, he’s not trying to be controversial. He’s not trying to upset the apple cart. And I think certainly once he had that first taste of the Olympics, I mean, imagine that you’re a high school dropout now you’re on a boat to the mainland.
You see all of America, then you’re on another boat and you’re in Europe. I mean, wow. That’s, that’s gotta be amazing. And all these people saying you are the greatest. I think that sort of define, help, define him moving forward. And I, you [00:25:00] know, I think that escape as, as I sort of write about going to Hollywood was sort of that one time where he sort of went for it.
Maybe a little bit different than it was a little bit off the beaten path, you know, getting out of his comfort zone of Hawaii and his family, taking it to LA and Hollywood and seeing if he could make it. And I think he enjoyed the experience. He’d met a lot of great people, et cetera, et cetera, but it certainly didn’t translate into a career in the movies.
Jill: You talk about him being a Waterman and that’s gets into the, the title of the book. But one element of this is surfing. Tell us a little bit about surfing at the time, because what got me were how heavy some of these surfboards were, they got far out into the water.
David Davis: No, I know. It was insane. And you can uh, when I went to the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, I mean, you can see these massive boards and they are they’re massive. Yeah, a hundred pound Koa would that they would carve out. And you can imagine, I mean, imagine holding a hundred pound wooden board running through the sand going into, I mean, that’s a good workout. I mean, that’s got to build up every muscle you can imagine and then paddling out and so, so on and so forth.
So yeah. And the balance of what it means. But yeah, no surfing was– there had been a down slope of surfing. Sorry. No pun intended. There had been a along with sort of the missionaries coming into Hawaii and trying to get rid of Hawaiian culture. There had been sort of a lull in the popularity of surfing and once Duke and others, his brothers and, and others beforehand kept that alive.
And at the time there was no technology .From what I’ve, I mean, there’s been reports that maybe there was surfing in Peru and other places, but as far as we know, maybe in other places in Polynesia, but as far as we know, Hawaii was the only place at that time. So when Duke wins the gold, when Duke wins at the Olympics in 1912, that gives him a platform to take surfing around the world.
And he does, when he comes back through the East Coast in 1912, he surfs in you know, off New Jersey, like Atlantic City. And I mean, I’m sure it wasn’t, thousands and thousands of people, but the people who saw it were sort of blown away. Right. And watching this guy, you know, what they would describe as he’s walking on water, what an amazing thing.
And then another key moment is him taking that tour in Australia. And I, I believe it was 1915, 1916 at the invitation of one of his rivals from the 1912 Olympics, and he goes down there, does a lot of swimming exhibitions, but also surfs. And, you know, again, the.dot.is look what happened to Australia.
So he would do that. I mean, that was his, was it his hobby or whatever you want to call it? That he felt the best in the water, whether it was swimming or surfing, and certainly he helped spread. And, and, and then when we talk about 1920s in Southern California, he surfed up and down California in the Pacific here and established surf spots that are still going today, whether it’s Huntington or up north in Santa Cruz.
So he was sort of that Johnny Appleseed figure of taking surfing and showing it, and without being, you know, some sort of. Hey, I’m going to here’s my surf board and I’m going to endorse this and so on and so forth. It was, it was very organic, and I think people just watched this and said, I want to do this. That looks cool.
And that gets into how surfboard technology changed in the twenties and thirties and got more sophisticated. And then certainly after the war, when people there was sort of, as airplanes come and technology comes, you sort of have this interchange between Southern California and Hawaii. And that sets up the big sort of boom of the sixties and Duke’s still there. You know, he’s still, a presence in that world until really he, until he died and then certainly his legacy living on.
Alison: What about surfing in the history made it stick? I mean, obviously a lot of people love it. It’s a lot of fun, but what really drew people to it at that time?
David Davis: Well, I think it was, I think it was also one of [00:30:00] those sports, like basketball, where all you need is a board. It’s pretty, you know, in that sense, it’s pretty simple. Yeah. It takes a little bit, you know, it takes some courage to try this, especially when those boards were the size they were. But on the other hand, those boards, being that they were sort of pretty simple or crude, you weren’t doing tricks and flips and all that sort of thing. It was you get paddled out, you turned around and you came back. So I think part of it was that simplicity, part of it was that feeling of you’re at one with the water, the universe.
I mean, people, a lot of people with a lot more experience in surfing and who really have integrated into their lives to them. it’s like breathing and maybe I didn’t emphasize that enough in, in the book because I was, as you know, I was starting to come at this more from the Olympic angle and most people from about Duke come at it from the surfing angle.
So of somewhere in the middle we met, I guess. But it, in that sense once you’re hooked on surfing it just becomes a, for many people becomes part of their routine part of their life and they can’t imagine anything without it. So I, you know, I think once the boards became sort of manageable, you know, lightweight and so forth, Young people, 10, 12 year olds, teenagers, you know, they couldn’t carry a hundred pound board But once the boards got manageable size, that’s when you really see surfing boom and also with women coming in because they can handle this, the boards as well, it really starts to diversify. I think it’s H I, you know, the spread of surfing and how that’s come about, is it? Yeah. There are many books on those and, and it’s a fascinating subject.
Alison: And now as of the summer, those two worlds truly have collided because we had our first Olympic surfing competition.
David Davis: Yeah. And I think that’s, I mean, there, there’s some controversy, there’s some old school surfers who, you know, they’re in their flip-flops and. All right. Let’s say they’re sipping a Corona.
Let’s keep it somewhat, you know? No, they don’t like the competition aspect of surfing. There’s certainly that. And I understand that. And that’s an argument that I’m sure you’ve heard about. You know, some of the X Game type you know, sports like, Hey, you know, snowboarding, it’s just, you know, we just want to do flips and things.
I guess this is the world we live in. And in that sense um, I’m happy that it is spreading and I hope, I hope it’s opened some doors to people. I really would’ve liked to have seen– this will be my editorial on on the surfing scene. I wish that they would have had Hawaii have its own team for the Olympics.
Like you would have a US team and then you’d have a Hawaiian team, but that’s just me.
Alison: Though we did have a Hawaiian.
David Davis: Yes.
Alison: In the women’s competition. So that was —
David Davis: Yeah, Carissa..
Alison: Where do you think Duke would come down on surfing competition?
David Davis: Uh, I think he, I think he would go for, I mean, he was, he was uh, and there’s a little controversy.
Did he ever say, oh, surfing will be in the Olympics, I, you know, I’ll leave that to other, other historians. If, if it, if it happened or not, it’s, it is a little controversial, but no, I think he loved competition. I mean, even though he was this sort of very soft-spoken shall we say, or, or someone who was reticent to talk and so forth, he loved competition.
I think that’s one of the reasons he kept going in 1924. Like he thought he could be. I mean, imagine if he had beaten Johnny Weissmuller for whatever reason. Wow. That would have been. You know, amazing. Of course, unfortunately for him, he, he couldn’t, and he, he actually, I don’t know about sponsor, but he put his name on one of the first and most prestigious surf contests in the sixties, which was the Duke Kahanamoku Invitational.
And that was, I mean, if you won the Duke, man, you were, you know, that was big. And that was really the start of the surf competition. And he had his own guys who were the Duke Kahanamoku surf team in that era. And they were all just absolutely top-notch surfers from Hawaii. They’re not necessarily Hawaiian, but they were all from Hawaii.
And so, yeah, I think he, I think he would dig it. I think he would be front and center at, on the beach there. And, and certainly last thing, I mean on that, I mean, you talked about this sort of the two worlds colliding, I think also it was important that it was Tokyo and Japan and the Pacific Rim.
And [00:35:00] I, I think Duke, I mean, if you go to Hawaii today, I mean, and see that influence. It’s not just Hawaii. It goes beyond, you know, all around the Pacific Rim. And, and certainly in Japan, I mean, he is revered. And I’ve tried like, heck to try to get my, the book translated to Japanese without success.
But I would, I would love to have that book out there, frankly. ,
Jill: Speaking of, the book came out in 2015. How long did it take you to put together? Because you do so much research for your books?
David Davis: Yeah. It probably took me from when I was finishing. You know, Shepherd’s Bush, which would have come out 2012.
So I was already working on it. I mean, I have, I have some regrets in terms of research. I mean, every time I do a book, I get better at research as you know, and I get more into it and I looking back, I, I would. Well, here’s my, here’s my regret on the Duke book. There are cases of newspapers, magazines that are in um, in the Hawaiian language.
And it would have taken a major effort and probably a lot of money to get those translated. To locate all of that. And I didn’t have that muscle. I, if I have any regrets, that’s it, because that would have been another fascinating angle and layer about him. I mean, I could only unfortunately deal with English language, magazines, newspapers documents in Hawaii, and thankfully there’s a lot.
That would be a bit of a regret. So, yeah. And I will say there was a challenge. Coming, you know, I’m haoli boy from Southern California going to Hawaii. You know, it’s a very different culture and understandably, they’re not exactly throwing open the doors to everybody who just walks in and says, hi, I’m doing this story on Duke or doing this book on Duke.
So that took a lot of effort and time to be able to win some trust of people and to get to , uh, some of the documentation and so forth sort of akin to, dealing with veterans and people with disability. In other words, I’m a, I’m an outsider, which is both a positive as a, as in terms of being a neutral observer, but you’re not necessarily, you know, an insider. I know all the people right away, it takes you some time to get into that. So,
Jill: And then how did the movie come about?
David Davis: Yeah, that’s I mean, I guess I would just say luck in the sense of the book was published by the University of Nebraska Press, so when you say surfing, you don’t necessarily go Nebraska, right? Okay. Obviously a joke. They’re great people. Oh, Hey, if
Jill: you know, maybe LA will choose Nebraska for its surfing location 2028.
David Davis: Right? Exactly. Well, if Kelly Slater builds one of those uh, pools there, surf surfing things.
No, the University of Nebraska, super people, they do a lot of great books, sports related, mostly baseball. You know, they took this on. I mean, again, and I, I will make an editorial comment. You know, New York publishers looked at our proposal, like, what the hell is this? Right. I mean, they can’t pronounce the guy’s name.
And again, it’s one of those, that’s a blind spot and they have many, right. And especially with Olympic stuff, they sort of don’t get it or surfing. Don’t get it. So we went with uh, a small university press. But thankfully, you know, the word the book got out in Hawaii and Southern California and there’s a lot of people who would read it and pass it on and so forth. And literally, I would say word of mouth and then yeah, we got optioned The documentary, obviously it’s just coming out now there’s interest to do a scripted feature as well about Duke. So we’ll see. I, I would not be opposed by any stretch, so yeah, I mean, but it’s not something you can count on, right, when you write the book. But, I do remember I had a PowerPoint and you know, to accompany the book, readings and libraries and things like that. And I would do the PowerPoint with Duke and you know, it, let’s say a half an hour, 40 minutes and then do a book signing. And I remember the first one we did was down or one of the first ones was down in Corona Del Mar in Southern California.
Popular surf spot. And actually it’s where Duke made his rescue of all those guys in 1925. I mean, literally like right down the street and people would came up to me and said, this has got to be a movie. This has gotta be [00:40:00] a documentary. I was like, well, yeah. Okay. You know, call my agent. Like I had an agent.
So anyway, I, all I can say is I got lucky, but yeah, it’s a great story, right. I mean, and heck they made movies of Jim Thorpe, so let’s uh, let’s put Duke up there. I certainly think he deserves to be in the pantheon.
Alison: Who would you want to play? Duke?
David Davis: That’s the rub. I mean, I guess maybe early on it could have been Jason Mamoa, but I think he’s maybe aged out of that one, but that’s the key. How do you cast that? Really tough
Alison: He’s such a larger than life personality. He was so handsome and so athletic and did all these many, many things and so many different things during his life. He was many people in many ways.
David Davis: Yeah. No, absolutely. And, and that’s another challenge. If you’re going to make a film do you do the soup to nuts version or do you just do a real concise one?
I mean, I, I think of the um, the film 42 about Jackie Robinson, you know, where they just took sort of that okay. Where he’s just starting to integrate into baseball and what that challenge was. And whether you like that or not, whether you think that film succeeded or not, I thought that was a very smart way to handle that.
And the Duke one, it’s, it’s not easy. That’s a challenge on many levels casting and storyline and, introducing people to Hawaii and Hawaiian culture that haven’t seen that or experienced that. So definitely a lot of challenges.
Jill: I’m guessing you’ve seen the film.
What do you think?
David Davis: Yeah, I really, I enjoyed it. I have not seen it in a movie theater. It’s playing in Southern California near me, but I’m under a little bit under the weather and I, I’m not supposed to go out very far is let’s just put it that way. So I haven’t seen it on the big screen.
That to me is worth where it’s all about, but I saw basically the final cut without I think all of the music, you know, not the final final, but, and I thought they did a great job. I mean, Isaac, you know, he had his vision of doing um, sort of the flashbacks and you know, not easy to do.
And I, I think, you know, he stuck with his vision and I think that shows, so I tip my hat to not easy to pull off. And I think he did a great job in that sense.
Alison: How involved, where you in the filmmaking itself, you know, were you talking to the directors regularly?
How did that relationship work?
David Davis: I gave them a lot of material in the beginning. I mean, I gave them all my research, you know, it was like boxes like here, good luck. You know, here’s stuff I found of Duke, you know, tape recordings in archives somewhere. Uh, Here’s uh, a video, you know, that sort of thing.
I just helped in that regard I’m a talking head in the film, So they sort of used me for that, to sort of be a through line in certain ways. I think they really, I mean, you were asking me about the film. I think they really worked hard to get a diverse crew of talking heads, you know, male, female Hawaiian, non Hawaiian surfers, non surfers.
So I think that part is really good. Yeah. It’s such a hard overall, so that, in that sense, that’s what I helped supply. I wasn’t sitting with in the directors meetings and things like that. So. They didn’t ask me about the soundtrack.
Jill: Did you have your own soundtrack in your head when you were writing?
David Davis: Well, yeah, a little bit. I love some of the old time ukelele and Hawaiian music, which to me is it re it just as soon as you hear it. you’re here in Hawaii and you’re sitting, on the beach or whatever, and you’re listening to some guy just sing some tunes on ukulele and some of those old, old time sounds to me. That’s that’s what gets me. Yeah.
Jill: What is it like to kind of let your baby go and be somebody else’s baby?
David Davis: Yeah. On the one hand, it’s the ultimate compliment, right? Somebody read your book. And I mean, before it was all, he all started shooting and then we, we did meet and have some conversations and, you know, he mentioned that he read the book and it, like, he could see it on the screen.
And then. That kind of what a compliment, and I didn’t, it wasn’t like, I was thinking that like, oh, this is going to be a documentary or film. It wasn’t like that. So for somebody to read whatever, it was, 85,000 words and go, yeah, this is, I can see this [00:45:00] as a film because I don’t have that ability to see it like that.
Yeah. To me, that’s the ultimate compliment. So I, you know, I’m out here in LA. I’m not part of that, you know, Hollywood scene, but, you know, I I’ve had enough experience with other, you know, with friends and so forth and they’ve all told me, look, it’s a, it’s a different medium, it’s a different animal.
You have your blurb that you did. That’s over here, that somebody wants to do this as a filter. That’s just sort of icing on the cake, I guess if I, for a, to use a cliche. Right. But no, I, it, it really was very the ultimate compliment.
Alison: Were there any fun, little Olympic tidbits from ‘ 12 or ’20 or 2– and you went through many that just didn’t fit in the book and you wish you could have told that story?
David Davis: Wow. That’s a good question. There was some stuff after ’20, I think they, supposedly they went to like the south of France and maybe were surfing there. You know, these little things that you just can’t because surfing is, and it was very frustrating to me as a Olympic historian where you’re like, OK, here are the competitors of the, you know, the a hundred meter semifinal.
And their times. Surfing’s not like that, you know, surfing is it’s ephemoral and until the sixties, there were no contests. So there weren’t that, you know, you couldn’t get that sort of hard evidence of, well, he surfed here on such and such date for. so many hours or whatever, or he did these tricks over here.
Really when he goes to Australia, like I said, in, in 1915, that was so well-documented because it was so different and because it was English language newspapers that I could access. So you can really get to that. Oh, well he was on, he was there at the beach on such and such day and so on and so forth so that the Europe stuff and all of that. Couldn’t find that. But I, I do want to mention you, you mentioned in passing whether he was 1932, was he on the team or not that one. My God, I, I went down that rabbit hole. I tried, I tried and I’m, I’m not convinced that he was an official USA team member.
My feeling was like he was an assistant coach for the water polo team and. Because he was in LA at the time, he was part of the scene, but I don’t think he was an Olympian. And yet a lot of historians had put him on as if he was appeared in four Olympics. And I, I don’t subscribe to that, but it was really hard to, find the hard evidence again on that one.
Alison: Well in your book is probably the most Hawaiian picture that could probably exist: Don Ho and Duke meeting each other.
David Davis: Yes. What an amazing, I mean, right. Amazing. I mean, when you think of all the people he, that went through Duke, you know, from the Prince of Wales and all these people, but yeah. Don Ho. And I mean, I guess if, if you really, there would have been several places I wish I could have time traveled to, specifically Paris, 1924 to watch Weissmuller versus Kahanamoku.
I mean, like that would have been. My gosh. Right. But the other one would have been like 1966 in Waikiki front row at Don Ho and Duke in the back, sitting there with a big smile on his face. That would have been pretty amazing. So yeah, I agree.
Jill: Excellent. Thank you so much, David. We are looking forward to the film.
David Davis: Okay thanks Thank you Sorry
Jill: Thank you so much, David, you can look for Waterman, which is in limited release in theaters, and it will also be on PBS’s American Masters program in May. Likely. For me in my area, it’s on Tuesday, May 10th.
Alison: So I want to mention that you are the one who brought up Avery Brundage in this conversation. I did not, and I totally let it go, mentioned nothing.
And I’m going to mention nothing about it now
Jill: Except that you mentioned it.
Alison: Moving on.
Jill: You know what? Okay. So this always happens. We talk about something on the show and then it pops up in real life. So I came home from a bike ride, and Ben happened to be watching Lilo and Stitch on TV. And I sat down because I do love Lilo and Stitch. What’s in Lilo’s bedroom?
A poster of Duke Kahanamoku.
Alison: I’ve only seen Lilo and Stitch one time in an airplane. So I didn’t really absorb it, but yeah, I mean it, Duke is a legend in [00:50:00] Hawaii. It’s one of those things where he continues to be woven into the fabric of that culture. And you don’t even realize how, how steeped.
Jill: Exactly. And there’s also another, for Lilo and Stitch fans, uh, yes, there is a, photo of the family in the movie at the Duke Kahanamoku statue as well.
Alison: Is this going to be like Where’s Duke, like Where’s Waldo?
Jill: It might be in, that would not be a bad thing either. You know, you can follow David on Twitter at @DDavisLA and check out his website ddavisla.com and you can get David’s books through our bookshop.org storefront. Bookshop.org/shop/flame alive pod. We’ve got a whole list of books by authors who have been on the show. And any purchases you make through that link will help support the podcast financially, as we prepare for the Paris 2024 Games.
Thank you to listener Erica who let us know about the movie.
That sound means it’s time for our history segment. And this year we are focusing on Albertville 1992. it’s my turn for a story, but I do want to say, did you see the news about the whitewater venue from Atlanta 1996?
Alison: I did not.
Jill: Um, 1996 was what we focused on last year. The whitewater venue burned.
Alison: Oh, no, no!
Jill: Totally burned down. Yes. It was one of the very few whitewater venues that was an actual river.
Alison: How does a river burn down?
Jill: It was the structure.
Alison: Just– you think they could’ve taken care of that? There’s a river!
I know, but I know I don’t mean to make light of the fire. That can be very dangerous.
Jill: So it’s pretty much totally destroyed, which is very, very sad because yes, it’s one of the few Olympic venues that actually used a river instead of building a whole cement structure for the whitewater course. So, sorry to hear about that.
I do have an Albertville story for you. ’cause last week, as you talked about the opening ceremonies and the women who were the, what do we call them? I don’t want to call them the country placard carriers, but that’s kind of what they do.
Alison: I mean, we call the other girls, the medal girls. Are these, the country girls? It doesn’t sound good either.
Jill: No, but, but as you talked about the, the women wearing the snow globes and you mentioned that they could move the snow in the snow globes and that some were very excited like France. And then you said others, weren’t so excited, like Swaziland, and I know listeners, some of you probably went, Swaziland? What is Swaziland doing at the Winter Olympics? Because I did that and I said, I’m not letting the detail go. Swaziland, which is now known as eSwatini and Swaziland was a British colony. It’s changed its name in 2018 to be eSwatini which is basically the Swazi language. And it means place of the Swazi, which is Swaziland, just in its native language now.
1992 was the first time that Swaziland was in the Winter Olympics. Sent one athlete, a Scottish born man named Keith Fraser, who had become a naturalized citizen of Swa And at the time he was about 24 years old. He competed in Alpine skiing, super G, giant slalom, slalom. He was also the flag bearer, not many people to choose from, but he did carry the flag.
Alison: I mean, there are so many things wrong with the story. We have a Scot going to Swaziland who skis.
Jill: Well, you know.
Alison: On the mountains of Scotland? I mean, what is happening here?
Jill: As we saw in Eddie, the Eagle Edwards, Eddie did not make the British team for downhill skiing. So there is Alpine skiing in the UK.
But Scotland? Have you been to Scotland?
I have been to Glasgow, but you know, it’s hilly up there. I, you know what, I just did a virtual bicycle ride around the north coast of Scotland last year. It’s hilly there. I was very glad I was doing it in Ohio, which is also surprisingly hilly, but I did it mostly in a flat area.
Alison: Our African Scot.
Jill: Yes. so in super G he finished 79th of 93 places. His time was 1 29, 39. Good 16 seconds behind the gold medalist, which actually is not bad, all things considered. He was 63rd in the giant slalom with the time of 2 41 76. 35 [00:55:00] seconds behind winner Alberto Tomba
Alison: Tomba! Tomba! Tomba!
Jill: And then he did not finish his first run in slalom, so he was out of the race. Uh, I think the mountain also got a lot of people in Albertville as well.
Keith moved to the U S somewhere. And he has become a ski instructor, at least part-time and he’s in Vail somewhere. I tried to find him to be quite honest.
The most I found was that he was given an honorable mention in Ski Magazine’s, top 100 instructors in 2003. And he’s also been an instructor examiner with the Rocky Mountain Division of the Professional Ski Instructors of America. And his nickname is, Swaz.
Keith has the distinction of being Swaziland’s only Winter Olympian. That was the first and only time they have ever competed at a Winter Olympics. Also the case for Honduras who Jenny Palacios-Stillo competed in cross country skiing. She was Honduras’ first and only winter Olympian.
Alison: And she was clearly not originally from Scotland.
Welcome to TKFLASTAN .
Jill: Yes. It’s time to check in with our Team Keep the Flame Alive, past guests of the show who now make up our country TKFLASTAN.
Snowboarder Chloe Kim has decided to take a year off of competition to focus on her mental health. She does plan to come back in 23- 24 to train for Milan Cortina 2026, because she would like to be a three time gold medalist.
Alison: She did this after 2018, she took a couple seasons off. Go finish high school at the time.
And I think she may have done a year of college. So I would not be surprised if she’s going to do some education and just be a normal person for a while. I mean, she needs the break.
Jill: Well, it’s interesting because the NBC News report of this quoted her as saying, you know, the season was draining, and yes it is. And I think all of these sports, because everyone can compete quote, unquote, professionally, or be full-time athletes, the seasons get more and more draining, and she has the capability to say, you know, I need to take a year off and maybe more athletes should do that.
Maybe sports should look at how not to make these things so pressure-filled, I don’t know.
Alison: And I wonder if the break that COVID forced in competition, we talked about this a little bit in relation to gymnastics has shown athletes and shown coaches you can take time away from competition and not lose your edge.
Yes. You’ve got to go back into full-time training, but you can be off the circuit for a year and not be out of the game.
Alison: Beach volleyball player. We mentioned Kelly Claes is no longer Kelly Claes. We mentioned she was married last month. She is now using her married name, Kelly Cheng. So you’ll see that on the AVP tour.
Jill: Sailors, Stephanie Roble and Maggie Shea are racing this weekend in the SOF Regatta in Hyeres, France.
Alison: And we mentioned our lovely volunteers that we absolutely adored back in Beijing. And we want to say congratulations to our favorite girl from hockey, Lea. She’s going to be spending the summer in Croatia at a program that she was admitted to and she had posted the letter.
So congratulations, Lea, be careful in Croatia.
Jill: Have fun!
Alison: I see who has college age children in this, in this duo?
Jill: No, but I hope, I hope she has a wonderful time and learns a ton and makes a lot of friends.
In France, Emmanuel Macron won reelection as the French president, he beat Marine Le Pen. Le Pen has been an outspoken critic of Paris, 2024, including the use of languages other than French in messaging. So the this is good news for Paris, 2024, and the French National Olympics and Sports Committee as well.
And they had supported Macron in his bid for reelection. So now I think people can breathe easier in terms of the Olympics, because otherwise who knows what would have happened.
Uh, we have some news from Milan Cortina 2026. The Lombardy region and municipality of Bormio has allocated over [01:00:00] a 21 million euros, which is about $23 million US to redevelop the infrastructure of the Bormio ski area, Inside the Games has reported. It’s going to cover building new grand stands, improved walking and cycling paths.
So, you know, that’s also like summertime use of the area. So that’s good. And replacing a parking lot and a footbridge, and they’re going to renovate the ski lift building. This will be things that not only the Olympics will use, but world cup races will use as well as the general public.
Alison: I don’t think we’ll be cycling to Bormio in February.
Jill: No. That’s for sure. Maybe we’d have to do a site visit, you know, how they had that world press briefing event, where they take everybody around on tours of the venues and things like that. Maybe by 2024, 2025, this podcast will be able to afford to go on that.
Alison: And maybe by 2025, I’ll have learned how to ride a bike.
Jill: Oh, that’s true too. You’re very close. You’re very close.
Alison: I’m also very close to ending back up in the emergency room. So let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Jill: Nonsense, nonsense. You can do it. I can. I believe in you.
Before we head out, we would like to say thank you to our Patreon patrons, whose financial support helps keep this show going. If you enjoy what this show brings to you on a weekly basis or daily basis if you’re listening to our games recaps, please visit Patreon.com/flamealivepod and consider becoming a supporter of the show.
And that will do it for this week. The World Games is coming up this July. We don’t have the budget to go to The World Games, even though it’s close to us, it’s in Alabama, but we would like to do some coverage because it’s kind of supported by the IOC in some way. So we want to do some coverage of this event. And we want to know what you want to learn about.
Alison: So get in touch with us. You can email email@example.com. Call or text us at (208) 352-6348. That’s 2 0 8. Flame it, our social handle is at flame alive pod, and be sure to join the, Keep the Flame Alive Podcast Group on Facebook
Jill: Next week. Join us for more stories of the Olympics and Paralympics. Thank you so much for listening and until next time, keep the flame alive.