Waterman tells the story of Duke Kahanamoku, a man most of us probably don’t know but who we should. The documentary uses their limited amount of footage and well executed recreations of surfing and swimming events to illustrate how amazing Duke was at both. A five-time Olympic medalist and native Hawaiian, Duke became the best swimmer in the world in only his first official hundred-yard swim meet hosted by the amateur athletic union that would bring athletes to the Olympics. The people on the mainland thought he was a fluke, that there was no way that this high school drop out could do what he did. He would prove them wrong in the 1912 Olympics by winning gold. This started his journey towards stardom around the world as Duke became the ambassador for aloha, surfing and Hawaiian culture.
The film does an excellent job at covering many parts of Duke’s life in its tight eighty-eight-minute runtime, but they pack it full of his life story from several different angles. We see the racism he faced in creating a sustained career, his athletic accomplishments and work as an ambassador for the sport of surfing. Above all of that though he was known as a man who promoted Aloha, a connection of love and spirit he showed to every person he encountered. There’s not a lot of direct footage of the man but the editing compiles amazing stories where people describe him as the embodiment of a welcoming and loving person. The documentary serves as a wonderful testimony and tribute to an athlete whose impact went beyond sport. During the Q&A the producer alluded that he and the director were working on a narrative feature to tell Duke’s story and I hope they write a character who can communicate the same aloha a man like Duke clearly did.