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Legendary waterman Duke Kahanamoku to be subject of new documentary

Film director Isaac Halasima is in Hawaii scouting areas and taping interviews for his upcoming...
Film director Isaac Halasima is in Hawaii scouting areas and taping interviews for his upcoming documentary on Duke Kahanamoku.(Hawaii News Now)
Updated: Jan. 24, 2019 at 5:44 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - For years, film director Isaac Halasima toyed with the idea of making a documentary on legendary waterman Duke Kahanamoku.

Now, he’s doing it.

"There's things that I really want people to see to know the scope of what Duke did," he said.

Halasima is part Polynesian and grew up in Utah. At an early age, he heard about Kahanamoku’s accomplishments as an Olympic athlete and surfer, and how he embodied the aloha spirit.

"I grew up with just this knowledge of this superhero we had as kids, but I noticed no one else knew who he was," he said.

The desire to tell Duke’s life story grew stronger as he honed his directing skills, producing music videos for the group Imagine Dragons and working on the feature film “The Last Descent.”

About a year ago, he committed to the Kahanamoku project, convincing producers he had a diamond in the rough.

“When you look at what it takes to be a water man and you look at the spirit of Aloha, you can see what made Duke who he was,” he said.

In a way, Halasima has a personal connection to Duke. His uncle, Jan Fisher, is the artist who made the Duke statue.

"Every time you saw anything in Hawaii you saw that shot. You always saw the statue," he said. "I had to know who that person is because my uncle made it. It's his most famous work."

Halasima is in Hawaii for a few days scouting sites and filming interviews.

"It's kind of been refreshing to see people talk about a personality that's been gone for so long as if he was here yesterday," he said.

Like the documentary, the title is a work in progress.

“The theme that keeps coming up is ‘The Waterman.' I have a feeling that will play into it,” he said.

The 90-minute film will feature photographs, old footage, and what Halasima calls surprises. He plans to recreate an incident that happened off the California coast when Duke used a surfboard to rescue boaters from a capsized vessel..

“You just tell people that story and you almost have to tell it twice. It’s like, ‘No. Wait a minute. What! What part is real?’ It’s like, ‘No, it’s real!’” he said.

Halasima hopes to release the Duke documentary just before the 2020 Summer games in Tokyo, where surfing debuts as an Olympic sport.

"It's fulfilling a dream of Duke's. So everything is coming full circle," he said.

Halasima is looking for rare photographs of Kahanamoku and for people who met him and have a story to tell.

If you can help, email dukethewaterman@gmail.com.

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