‘Waterman’ documentary chronicling life of Duke Kahanamoku nears completion

Published: Aug. 16, 2021 at 4:44 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The documentary trailer for “Waterman” grabs you with the first words spoken by narrator Jason Momoa.

It’s all about Hawaii’s legendary swimmer and surfer.

“At 14, Duke Kahanamoku embraced his responsibility to master the ultimate Hawaiian tradition, becoming a waterman,” Momoa says.

Filmmaker Isaac Halasima immersed himself in his special project for two years. The result is a thorough treatment of the life of Hawaii’s ultimate waterman.

“I want him to be a star. I want him to be a superhero,” Halasima said.

The Utah-based director covered a lot of ground to capture Kahanamoku’s story. He filmed interviews and recreated scenes in Hawaii and Australia. He worked with a symphony on the mainland to score the soundtrack. He is certain the end product will entertain and educate audiences, and maybe move them to tears.

“Memories will fade but feelings don’t. You end up remembering feelings. My idea was jam pack this thing with feelings and history. You’ll learn. It’ll stick,” he said.

The 90-minute film is packed with archival footage and photographs that trace Duke’s life as a medal-winning Olympic swimmer, surfer and ambassador for the sport.

“A powerhouse like Duke sharing it launched it decades ahead of what it probably would have taken for surfing to take off,” Halasima said.

He interviewed more than 60 people, from Waikiki beachboys to surfing stars past and present, and well-known islanders.

“That’s part of the cool parts about Duke. You go to Hawaii, everybody’s got a story about Duke. So you let them tell the story,” he said.

Hawaii News Now first met Halasima in January 2019 when he was starting the project.

“It’s almost like you’re book-ending me,” he said. “You were there when I was like, ‘How do I do this?’ Now it’s like, ‘We’re almost done.’”

The finishing touches are all that’s left to do before the film is released. He hopes his work will spark new interest in Kahanamoku.

“When they talk about watermen, they talk about Duke,” Halasima said.

Halasima expects “Waterman” to be in theaters by the end of the year.

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