How Waikiki's Legendary Beach Boys Defined Aloha

The famed first generation of Hawaii beach boys offered the Islands' earliest visitors lessons in surfing, paddling and Hawaiian culture.

Duke Kahanamoku surfing at Waikiki Beach, Oahu, 1929.

The beach boys of Waikiki are the stuff of local legend. A group of laid-back Hawaiian watermen who worked and played on the area's beaches as it rose to become Hawaii's premier resort destination.

Highly skilled in the water and knowledgeable about the ocean, they could surf, steer canoes, fish, dive and swim. And they made their living sharing all of this with the first visitors to the Islands.

The beach boys represented the very basis of what aloha is. And that was welcoming strangers into your home as if they were family. That's what a Waikiki beach boy did, day after day after day.

Waikiki's first beach boys began showing up around the time the beachfront's first hotel, the Moana, was completed in 1901. Tourists flocking to Waikiki were immediately enamored of the romantic lifestyle of the beach boys, who, in turn, happily shared their knowledge of Hawaiian and surf culture with them... usually for tips.

By 1911, two surfing clubs - the Outrigger and Hui Nalu - had set up beachfront quarters in Waikiki, each with a staff of beach boys offering surfing lessons, canoe rides and lifeguarding services. Five years later, Hui Nalu (Hawaiian for "wave club") struck an arrangement with the Moana to provide the hotel with its own concession on Waikiki Beach. Dubbed the Moana Bathhouse Gang, these clean-cut beach boys sported uniforms and weren't allowed to drink, gamble or flirt with female visitors - a stark contrast from the then prevailing beach boy stereotype.

By the time the luxe, pink-stuccoed Royal Hawaiian Hotel opened next door to the Moana in 1927, Waikiki was quickly becoming a premier visitor destination, luring Hollywood celebrities for sun and surf. Riding a rising tide of demand for beach services, Waikiki's beach boys profited from the influx of wealthy visitors, who rewarded them with dinners, gifts and even envelopes of cash.

Beach boys were a well-known symbol of Hawaiian culture, of the activities at famous Waikiki Beach, especially surfing. They stayed connected with Hawaiian cultural traditions even as they interacted with the rest of the world, and adapted to it.

In many ways, Hawaii's eventual rise as a world-class tourist destination can be traced, at least partially, to the hospitality and aloha spirit proffered by Waikiki's earliest cadres of beach boys.

Duke Kahanamoku was probaly the most famous Waikiki beach boy. He was an Olympic gold-medal swimmer and surfing patriarch. By the time he was a teenager, just after the turn of the century, Kahanamoku all but ruled Waikiki's beaches with his surfing and swimming skills.

In reality, Kahanamoku was never a wage-earning beach boy. But the lifelong Hawaii "ambassador of aloha" who credited with introducing surfing to the world, remains the embodiment and gold standard of a true beach boy - skilled, respectful, friendly.

Try meeting or leaving people with aloha. You'll be surprised by their reaction.

Duke's bronze statue welcomes you with aloha and open arms and on most days, he is adorned with flower leis that people hang over his arms and lay in front of his feet.

A weekly conversation about garbage and our ocean

Want to submit an article? Contact us

Hamptons Bachelorette Party