Dylan Goodale Unearthed A Crazy Letter From Duke Kahanamoku
It was sent to his grandfather in 1935.
Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of Duke Kahanamoku’s passing. If you can’t recall the Hawaiian’s extensive list of accolades, which includes multiple Olympic gold medals, several life-saving ocean rescues, and a legacy as surfing’s reverse-colonizer – where in contrast to the white businessmen who overthrew the kingdom of Hawaii in the late 1800s, Duke, a non-wealthy native man, gifted the continental U.S. with Hawaiian culture and aloha – I recommend you take a look at his Encyclopedia of Surfing page. But beyond all these macro achievements, Duke was also responsible for smaller, more interpersonal feats, like inspiring Wisconsin-native Tom Blake, who went on to invent the surfboard fin and surf photography, to move to Southern California in pursuit of waves.
As we learned yesterday via Dylan Goodale’s Instagram post, the concept of personally inspiring others to surf was kind of Duke’s M.O.:
The letter reads:
Mr. Hobey Wichman,
My dear Hobey:
Your grandpa, the honorable Chas A. Rice, has informed me that you are very much interested in surfing and that you are encouraging the boys around your place to take up the sport. I will tell you this: surfing is a sport equal to none in this world. It is in a class by itself and if one starts as young as you have, it will make you a healthy and clean young man and the exercise you get out of it will come in handy later in your life. I owe my swimming strength to surfing and from what your grandpa tells me, you are quite the expert. I invite you, whenever you are in Honolulu, to come up with me to the big surf at Waikiki and I am sure you will have a thrilling time.
Peter Makia, one of the Beach Boys, is making you a very nice board and we are all helping him and I’m sure when you get it, you will be very proud of it. Again, I wish you luck as an expert surfboard operator, remaining, always your friend,
Very truly yours,
Sheriff, City and County of Honolulu.
Wanting to hear more of this incredible tale, I got Dylan Goodale, a professional surfer from Kauai, on the phone to explain his family’s ties to the Duke.
Stab: Dylan, what an incredible letter. Give me some more context!
Dylan Goodale: Well, when Duke sent this letter, my grandpa (Hobey) would have been a teenager.
And why was Duke writing him this letter?
Duke knew of my grandpa (Hobey Wichman*) because he was friends with my great-great-grandfather (Chas Rice), who was a senator of the Territorial Senate of Hawaii while Duke was the Sheriff. My great-great-grandfather had said something about Hobey surfing at Kalapaki Beach where he grew up in Kauai. So Duke just heard that he was taking up surfing and reached out to him.
Do you know if Hobey ever got to meet Duke and surf with him? From your caption it sounds like he collected the board at some point.
I don’t know if he ever got to meet Duke, but they definitely sent the board over to him. Then there was a tsunami in 1946 or something, and they had to leave the board behind as they scrambled for higher ground. Unfortunately they never saw it again.
And did you just recently find out about this letter?
I’ve known about it for a while. My grandpa wrote a book about his life before he died, and there’s a scan of the letter in there. We also have the original copy at our house. Then yesterday I was waiting around at the bank, and I saw on the front page of the Honolulu Advertiser was “50 years since the death of Duke”. So I called up my dad and was like, “Where’s that letter?” Then he sent me a photo of it and I was like yeah, that’s sharable for sure. Oh, and I didn’t realize until today that Duke sent the letter on my (future) birthday. Pretty crazy.
So your grandfather was a first-gen surfer, you’re obviously a pro surfer, and I’d assume your dad likes to wet his rails too?
Yeah, me and pops surfed all day today [laughs]. My dad wears speedos and charges big waves – it’s pretty funny. The only times he doesn’t wear speedos is when he surfs Pine Trees because he doesn’t want to freak out the groms [laughs]. I’ll send you guys a photo of him.
This story makes me wonder, how many other surfing pros, innovators, and revolutionaries is the great Duke Kahanamoku directly responsible for? Even fifty years after his death, his legacy continues to shape the sport of kings.
I’ll leave you with an ever-relevant quote from the Duke himself:
“You know, there are so many waves coming in all the time, you don’t have to worry about that. Take your time—wave come. Let the other guys go; catch another one.”
*When Hobey was a child, his father died in a plane crash. Later Hobey’s mother, Dylan’s great-grandma, married a guy named Fred Wichman and they changed their last name to reflect his. Hobey later changed his surname back to Goodale, but his two brothers did not.
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