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Long-awaited Duke Kahanamoku ‘Waterman’ documentary hits the big screen

Duke Kahanamoku is considered to be the epitome of a waterman. But it was a long journey for his story to finally reach a wider audience.
Published: Apr. 1, 2022 at 9:29 PM HST|Updated: Apr. 1, 2022 at 10:17 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Duke Kahanamoku is considered to be the epitome of a waterman. But it was a long journey for his story to finally reach a wider audience.

“Waterman,” the documentary on the Duke, finally got on the big screen in Hawaii movie theaters Friday.

The documentary is getting the big Hollywood treatment. It was narrated by Jason Momoa, and is getting the big posters and autographs from the filmmakers.

It’s a major motion picture for a Hawaiian legend.

“This is a great opportunity for us to share the story of Duke Kahanamoku and remind the world that he was not just a lost Hawaiian but a lost American, and he stood for a lot more than just athleticism,” said Associate Producer Billy Pratt.

“He is just as important as Jesse Owens and Jackie Robinson and Jim Thorpe and Muhammad Ali,” said Director Isaac Halasima. “He’s one of those people that seemed to change the world when he came on the stage.”

The documentary includes not just historic footage of the Duke, but also reenactments, where Kahanamoku is portrayed by modern-day waterman Duane DeSoto. He’d already played the role of Kahanamoku in a 2015 commemoration in Australia.

“At first I didn’t really want to take the role,” DeSoto said. “I felt it as sort of a role maybe someone else should take. My wife convinced me that I should do it.”

DeSoto surfs on a wooden board in early 20th century surf wear. That came easy for the professional longboard surfer. But he also did the swimming scenes.

“I had to be conscious of his kick and making sure I kick a lot more, knowing that he had, basically had a kick that was twice as much as anyone else.”

DeSoto said he performed each scene as if Kahanamoku was watching. And in at least one scene in Makaha, he believes Duke’s spirit was with him.

“The moment I stepped off from that board, I got chicken skin and I really felt like, okay, someone was with me right now.”

The documentary’s release was delayed. It was supposed to premiere at the Tokyo Olympics, which were postponed. Then came the prolonged COVD pandemic shutdowns.

Even before its theatrical release, the documentary picked up several film festival awards. Producers decided to release it in Hawaii theaters first, and then the mainland, and also plan to bring the film to Australia and New Zealand.

“Besides releasing through the theaters, we will then release via streaming, so people have the opportunity to watch us in their homes later, probably in the month of May,” said Pratt.

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