From the waves at Waikiki to the sand dunes of Freshwater, the true story of Duke Kahanamoku in Australia
Published by Hardie Grant, February 2014.
In the first summer of World War One, while Australian soldiers made their way to the battlefields, the world’s original aquatic superstar sailed for Sydney. Over a two-month, three-state tour, Hawaiian Duke Kahanamoku revolutionised perceptions of surfing and swimming, and changed forever the direction of fifteen-year-old Isabel Letham’s life.
Well researched and brilliantly told, That Summer At Boomerang immerses the reader in a time ‘when fun was young’. The entwined stories of Duke Kahanamoku and Isabel Letham, whose paths crossed at Freshwater Beach at the dawn of the age of celebrity, and the beginning of the Great War, are the foreground to a fascinating portrayal of Australia and Hawaii, of sport and business, at that seminal moment.
I had so much fun writing Boomerang, and not just because the research took me back to Hawaii on several occasions to surf and to pore over the archives at Bishop Museum, the University of Hawaii and the Outrigger Canoe Club. More than in any other history I’ve written, here I tested the boundaries of where fact meets fiction, imagining Duke’s experiences in Hawaii, Stockholm and Australia beyond what the ancient press clippings could tell you. In particular, I was intrigued by how this big, friendly man of colour must have felt in “Australia for the white man”, as the cover line of the country’s most influential magazine put it. Some in Hawaii felt I had taken too much license with the revered father of surfing, others were thankful that for the first time he had been portrayed not as an icon but as a human.