Brian Keaulana And Friends Walk In Duke’s Footsteps In Australia

Retracing the legendary Duke Kahanamoku's footsteps in Australia, a crew from Hawaii led by Brian Keaulana from C4 Waterman revisited and experienced the same vibe and Australian hospitality that Duke did—just 95 years later. Trust me and Uncle Brian; there are 12,784 reasons to love Australia!

Brian Keaulana C4 Waterman
Above: Sharing the spirit at Palm Beach, Sydney, Australia

Hawaii Visitors Discover Duke’s Spirit Alive & Well ‘Downunder’

HONOLULU (March 24, 2009) – Hawaii ambassadors Brian Keaulana, Todd Bradley, Dave Parmenter and Archie Kalepa have returned from a life-changing, “chicken skin” Waterman’s Cultural Exchange visit to the Northern Beaches of Sydney, Australia. The group from C4 Waterman set out to retrace the steps and relive the camaraderie Duke Kahanamoku experienced in Sydney during the summer of 1914.

Duke was the first Hawaiian to visit Australia to demonstrate surfing and share his aloha, and the group of watermen from Hawaii discovered that Australia has done much to keep his spirit alive.

During their week-long visit, Keaulana and friends met with many surf-related groups and individuals, including a visit with a young boy who was attacked by a shark just days before their arrival. They also surfed with the locals, visited Surf Lifesaving and Boardriders Clubs, and spoke at a public high school where they addressed 800 students on the Hawaiian heritage of surfing and paddling. All activities revolved around sharing and exchanging ideas, techniques and equipment that are integral to the ocean-going lives that Australians and Hawaiians share.

Part of their journey took them to Freshwater Beach where they checked in on the original wooden surfboard that Kahanamoku left with the local surf club after his surfing demonstration all those years ago. They also visited the larger-than-life bronze statue on the sandstone headland that overlooks Freshwater.

“You hear so much about Duke’s accomplishments, but to hear the underground stories was pretty heavy,” said Keaulana. “They talk about him being brought to Australia to train with the guys in Manly. But he went over the mountain to the next valley over – Freshwater, where they were more of the regular blue-collar workers types, and he stayed and hung with those guys.

“Duke went to a nearby wood mill and got a big sugar-pine block of wood. He shaped the board that he rode there and they talked about how effortlessly he rode the waves.

“When we took that board out of the glass case you could feel how heavy it was – as thick as a door, maybe even thicker, and heavier than a solid door. You could feel the energy, the scratches in the carvings.

“So now that I’m home, one of my goals is to replicate that board and challenge myself and the kids in Makaha to ride that board and really think about how it must have felt for Duke."

“Of all the trips I’ve done – surfing big waves, traveling the world, this one was by far the best experience and the most successful thing I ever did.

“Australia was amazing – such a healthy environment for raising a family. They work hard and they play hard. The elders swim early every morning at the saltwater rock pools down by the ocean, the fathers and sons surf, the clubbies do their run-swim-run, surf skis, all that. It’s real family oriented. The whole country’s like that in Australia. I appreciate what I have in Makaha, but when I went to Australia, I found Makaha a million times over – that family value system.

“I wish our local politicians could see what we saw, to understand that when you change your values, you change your behaviors. They’re always talking about tourism here, making things pretty on the outside. But Australia is so beautiful on the inside and that carries over into the lives of the people and creates an unbelievable experience for visitors like us.”

Carting a quiver of equipment that included surfboards, a four-man outrigger surfing canoe, standup paddle boards and replicas of the ancient alaia board, the Hawaiian group was hosted by Sydney surfing identity Bruce Raymond – a former top 16-ranked surfer and head of the renowned surfwear group Quiksilver.

“This was an incredible experience for all of us here on the Northern Beaches of Sydney,” said Raymond. “We have a rich surfing culture here and to see our visitors share with the local Boardriders Clubs, Surf Lifesaving Clubs and high school gave us a window on the potential of future relations between Australia and Hawaii.

“We both love our beach culture, healthy living and our coastal environments, and this commonality brought down any barriers between surfing factions. Our Hawaiian friends showed us that no single piece of equipment defines a surfer, but rather that we are all watermen at heart. It truly was a cultural surf exchange.”

Among those on hand for the visit was Sherilyn Robinson, Hawaiian Airlines Sales and Marketing Manager Australia, whose own role includes promoting Hawaii’s surf culture, and the airline’s sponsorship of the annual “Duke’s Oceanfest” event on Waikiki Beach. The support of Hawaiian Airlines was critical to the success of this cultural exchange.

Kahanamoku, the Hawaiian beach boy widely credited with making surfing a global phenomenon, is one of Hawaii’s favorite sons. He is also one of Australia’s favorite hanai sons. Since his visit to Australia almost 100 years ago, surfers of Australia and Hawaii have enjoyed a kinship that has given rise to enduring friendships, legendary sporting rivalries, and progressive changes to surfboard design. The exchange of gifts goes on.