Honoring Duke’s Surfing Team

Duke Kahanamoku and his first surf team (from left), Paul Strauch Jr., Joey Cabell, Fred Hemmings and Butch Van Artsdalen. Photo courtesy Kai and Nalani Markell

The year was 1965. Paul Strauch Jr., Fred Hemmings, Joey Cabell and Butch Van Artsdalen were living a dream. At the time, the four young men were the world’s best surfers. They would make even more history when they were selected to be the first members of Duke Kahanamoku’s Surf Team.

“It was a lifestyle back then, and we were young at the time,” says Cabell, who went on to open the famous Chart House restaurant. “It was an honor just to spend so much time with Duke. He was such a humble man and a man with incredible integrity. Those were great memories.”

Kahanamoku’s manager Kimo McVay, who owned the Duke Kahanamoku night club in the International Market Place, came up with the idea of developing a surf team that would ride for Duke. The group would tour the world promoting surfing and Duke’s surfing products. Many believe the surf team was Kahanamoku’s last involvement in surfing before he died in 1968.

“It was a real honor spending Duke’s twilight years with him,” says Hemmings, who was 19 at the time and would later become the world’s first surfing champion from Hawaii after winning the World Surfing Championship in Puerto Rico in 1968.

“We’ve always expressed how lucky we were to surf in the golden era of surfing in the ’60s. I often say it was the romantic era of surfing.”

The four men would help perpetuate the legacy of native Hawaiian surfing and went on to become sports legends. On Feb. 12, the legends will be honored at the annual Duke Kahanamoku Challenge at Hilton Hawaiian Village.

“I am honored, but to tell you the truth, I’m most pleased that organizations are starting to recognize the value of surfing and Hawaiian water sports that Duke was a patriarch of,” says Hemmings. “The ocean is Hawaii’s playground, and surfing and canoe paddling are Hawaii’s gifts to the world. Where there’s a wave breaking, more than likely there’s someone there to ride it. That’s a gift from the Hawaiians.”

“It’s a big honor to even be considered to be a part of this,” says Cabell, who at 73 still surfs as often as he can. “To be included with Fred, Butch and Paul, it’s a special feeling, especially at our age.”

Besides surfing, Cabell says he also snowboards 120 days a year in Aspen, Colo. He also races his 44-foot catamaran.

Van Artsdalen died in 1979, but before he left this world he left his mark as one of the greatest bigwave surfers and a wellrespected North Shore lifeguard. Old-timers say he saved hundreds of lives.

Strauch now lives in California, while Hemmings still calls Hawaii home and still enjoys the surf off Waikiki.

“I can’t jump to my feet fast enough, so these days I chase down big waves in canoes,” laughs Hemmings. “Canoe surfing lends itself to the same excitement as surfing. In fact, in all of my years of surfing, I only came close to death a couple of times, and one of those times was during canoe surfing.”

Waikiki Community Center will celebrate its 27th annual Duke Kahanamoku Challenge at Duke Kahanamoku Beach and Lagoon in Waikiki.

The challenge is a fun community event for local residents and visitors that features canoe racing and ancient Hawaiian makahiki games. The event was first established in 1985 as a community service project by the Waikiki Jaycees. Since then it has become a signature sports fundraiser benefiting the center and the work it does with hundreds of families in need. The festivities start at 9 a.m.

“Surfing is probably the most-recognized image of Hawaii,” says Hemmings. “When tourists come off the plane they have a preconceived notion of Hawaii, and I can tell you it’s not the Pro Bowl, it’s Duke Kahanamoku and surfing. We must nourish our culture and honor who we are. I’m pleased the Waikiki Community Center has recognized Duke’s surfers. It’s gratifying!”

For more information about the Duke Kahanamoku Challenge or Waikiki Community Center, call 923-1802 or visit www.waikikicommunitycenter.org.