Duke Paoa Kahanamoku is the Waterman, a hero unlike any other. He not only represented Hawaii‘s spirit in sports competitions, but also became something more. At the height of his career, he became a five-time Olympic medalist. Like Aquaman, part of his family’s heritage comes from noble blood and viewers will be pleased Jason Momoa is one of many voices to offer insight to this athlete’s world.
Kahanamoku grew up enjoying life along the warm beaches around Waikiki. He honed his many oceanic skills here, and that also included mastering the waves on an alaia–a waterboard. When he introduced this sport to the world (starting in Australia) the love for it was only starting. Duke didn’t get the recognition for it right away, and what this documentary perfectly explores are all the problems he faced before being hailed the king of the sea.
The interviews explain what made Paoa special. Despite always getting the short end of the stick, he held his head up high. Racism was quite common in the early part of the 20th century, and what he faced was often unwarranted.
Isaac Halasima directed this film and his approach to explain how this man defined this sport and what happened in Waterman’s wake only cements his enduring legacy. Duke faced many problems. Sometimes he wasn’t the winner and it only taught him to either train harder or be that better man than the rivals he faced.
When he wanted to become an actor, Waterman faced Hollywood’s attitude in wanting to show how white man is superior in those films that marked the Classical Age of Cinema. This segment is very revealing. He went home to where the heart is when he had enough. He’s like Bruce Lee in that regard. Instead of staying in America, he went to Hong Kong to cement his legacy. Sadly, Kahanamoku returned to Hawaii and in the eyes of the world, nearly faded to obscurity.
The respect people have for Duke is because of all the things he’s done to promote love, life and happiness. This documentary excels at that Polynesian philosophy and goes beyond. It lists the acts of heroism; he saved many people from drowning had he not been near. He’s the ultimate lifeguard. This documentary celebrates and recognises who he is through lots of archive footage, new interviews and a few recreations. Instead of just being a Waterman, he’s a Superman too!
5 Stars out of 5
Playing theatrically in LA and NYC on April 15th via Purdie Distribution, with platform expansion from there.