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Duke Kahanamoku Invitational


Annual surfing meet held on Oahu's North Shore, usually at Sunset Beach, from 1965 to 1984; named in honor of Hawaiian surfing pioneer and Olympic gold medal swimmer Duke Kahanamoku; regarded until the mid-'70s as surfing's premier competition. The Duke event was developed by Kimo McVay, Honolulu entrepreneur and Kahanamoku's manager, partly as a marketing device for the just-opened Duke Kahanamoku's restaurant and nightclub in Waikiki. Newspaperman Leonard Lueras and big-wave surfer Fred Van Dyke also helped organize the contest.

Although Oahu's North Shore had long been recognized as the richest big-wave area, with Sunset Beach known as the best oversize high-performance break, the Duke was the first major surf event held in this part of Hawaii. As selected primarily by Van Dyke, 24 surfers received red-velvet gold-embossed invitations to the first Duke Kahanamoku Invitational Surfing Championships (the suffix was changed to Surfing Classic in 1968), including Jeff Hakman, Mickey Dora, Mike Doyle, Joey Cabell, Paul Strauch, Mickey Muñoz, and Corky Carroll. The exclusions of 1964 world champion Midget Farrelly and 1965 world champion runner-up Nat Young, both from Sydney, were generally regarded as a tactical low blow by American partisans against the surging Australians; reigning world champion Felipe Pomer of Peru was the only non-American Duke invitee. Contest organizers paid the airfare for all non-Hawaiian entrants; competitors were given a $50 appearance fee and lodged in Waikiki's upscale Surfrider Hotel. CBS was on hand to shoot a one-hour Duke Invitational sports special.

The contest took place on December 14, in big, rough, challenging surf, and high school senior Jeff Hakman was a surprise winner. Comparisons were immediately made between the Duke contest and the venerable Makaha International Championships, with the Duke event coming up a unanimous winner: "A marvel of organization and planning," as Surfer magazine reported, "featuring the greatest surfing ever seen in competition."

The Duke became a professional event in 1968, with Mike Doyle earning the $1,000 winner-take-all purse. With the formation of a world pro tour in 1976, the Duke became the second-to-last event on the contest schedule. Two years later, however, the Duke was dropped from the event schedule "for not meeting IPS [International Professional Surfers] sanctioning requirements"—although what exactly this meant has long since been forgotten.

Sixteen of the 20 Duke contests were held at Sunset Beach. The 1978 event took place at Laniakea, and the 1973, 1975, and 1980 events were held at Waimea Bay. CBS produced Duke sports specials from 1965 to 1967, and the network's 1966 coverage was nominated for an Emmy. ABC's Wide World of Sports intermittently covered the event from 1968 to 1982. Results of the Duke Kahanamoku Surfing Classic:

1965: Jeff Hakman

1966: Ricky Grigg

1967: Jock Sutherland

1968: Mike Doyle

1969: Joey Cabell

1970: Jeff Hakman

1971: Jeff Hakman

1972: James Jones

1973: Clyde Aikau

1974: Larry Bertlemann

1975: Ian Cairns

1976: James Jones

1977: Eddie Aikau

1978: Michael Ho

1979: Mark Richards

1980: Mark Warren

1981: Michael Ho

1982: Ken Bradshaw

1983: Dane Kealoha

1984: Derek Ho