Remembering the 1965 Duke Kahanamoku Invitational

Magicseaweed

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Updated 12d ago

Words by Sam George

“There’s nothing more worthless than two-year-old surf footage.” This quote is attributed to Greg MacGillivray, one of surfing’s most successful filmmakers, who in 1974 was in the editing room updating his 1972 classic, Five Summer Stories, for yet another theatrical run. Sign of the times, maybe, but we’re lucky that this sentiment was reassessed over the years; after all, people now have access to virtually the entire historical timeline of modern surfing, preserved in perpetuity on digital video.

The latest and most legitimate curator of this wealth of historically significant imagery is Opper Films’ acquisition of 22 rare titles from Larry Lindberg Productions. An innovative producer/cinematographer, Lindberg was the first to package and produce televised surfing competition for major national networks like CBS, NBC and ABC, beginning with the 1965 Duke Kahanamoku Invitational. The contest was first held at Sunset Beach, and spanned two decades of competitive evolution right up to the 1985 Sunkist World Cup, a major professional event also held at Sunset Beach.

Lindberg’s first surf production, the 1965 Duke Kahanamoku Invitational is naturally the first one made available for streaming by Opper Films. It transcends mere sports coverage, but rather sets the tone for a fascinating study of the birth of professional surfing. After all, this was the first contest ever held on Oahu’s North Shore; with a one-day format awarding points for performance rather than mere bravado, and an invitation list featuring both old guard and young guns.

In short, the ’65 Duke was the first modern surf contest, and his first time up at bat, Lindberg had the foresight to present it as such.

“Larry Lindberg presented surfing like no one had ever seen before,” says Randy Rarick, co-founder of the International Professional Surfing Tour in 1976, who watched this seminal event from the beach as a grom then later on TV. “He captured the dynamics of it as a sport, not just a pastime. His network coverage made America go, ‘Wow, these surfers are sportsmen,’ and that really legitimised the whole thing.”

Yet it wasn’t just the mainstream audiences that got a new slant on the sport. The ’65 Duke was an entirely different animal for hardcore surfers, too.

“At the other big surf contests of the time, like the Makaha International Championships and the U.S. Championships at Huntington Beach, the surfing being done and the judging formats seemed like vestiges of another time,” says surf historian Matt Warshaw. “The ’65 Duke was really a progressive big-wave contest. Like, ‘We’re going to send them out at Sunset in big surf and the winner is going to be someone surfing in the very latest style.’”

Lindberg’s innovative coverage includes aerial cinematography, scenic and cultural b-roll, and character studies, which lend his programs a vital, contemporary feel. When viewed today, even in the original black-and-white format, his productions aren’t all that different from the surf contest coverage we see online today. But beyond that, very few if any of Lindberg’s productions have ever been seen since their initial airing. So, when considered in its entirety, the Lindberg Collection holds a much deeper significance.

Duke and Fred Van Dyke (r) hand the spoils of victory to young Jeff Hakman. Held at entertainer Don Ho’s popular Waikiki nightclub, the awards ceremony broke from the tradition of handing out trophies on the sand.

Duke and Fred Van Dyke (r) hand the spoils of victory to young Jeff Hakman. Held at entertainer Don Ho’s popular Waikiki nightclub, the awards ceremony broke from the tradition of handing out trophies on the sand.

“These aren’t just for people interested in competitive surfing,” says Ira Opper, CEO at Opper Films. “I mean, it’s great to see 16-year-old Jeff Hakman winning the ’65 Duke. But it’s even more amazing to see extremely rare interviews with legendary surfers like Duke Kahanamoku, Miki Dora and Eddie Aikau; to hear their voices, in some cases for the very first time on film. In focusing not just on the surfing but the surfers themselves, Lindberg has created an invaluable historical and cultural record that transcends typical surfing films.”

Full film is now playing on The Surf Network.

Lindberg's film crew in the chopper.

Lindberg's film crew in the chopper.