While Kahanamoku wasn't technically American since Hawai'i had yet to join the union, his prowess as a surfing and swimming champion earned him a spot on the U.S. team starting at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics,winning Hawaii’s first Olympic gold medal for 100-meter freestyle, and a silver medal for the 4×200-meter freestyle relay.
Kahanamoku competed again in 1920 at the Antwerp Olympics winning two more gold medals and the 1924 Paris Olympics winning a silver medal in 100-meter freestyle race behind gold medalist Johnny Weissmuller.
Kahanamoku and Johnny "Tarzan" Weissmuller, 1920.
LAAC (Los Angeles Athletic Club) Swim Team posing in front of a mirrored pool. Some of the identified members are: Josephine McKim, Georgia Coleman, Buster Crabbe, Duke Kahanamoku, Mickey Riley, etc. Shades of LA collection, Los Angeles Public Library.
Kahanamoku's dark, sensuous face and Adonis-like physique had caught the eye of Hollywood producers, who invited him to move to Los Angeles in 1922, where he was made a member of the all-white Los Angeles Athletic Club, an act that was unprecedented for a person of color.
From 1922-1929 he worked for various movie studios, usually portraying a native chief or a Hawaiian king while popularizing Southern California as a mecca for surf and swim.