“Aquaman” star Jason Momoa and producer Peter Safran have reteamed to develop a feature biopic about Duke Kahanamoku, the legendary Hawaiian Olympic swimmer who is widely credited with popularizing surfing as a sport.
Momoa and Safran have teamed with producers Susan Miller Carlson and Eric Carlson of Carlson Company to bring Kahanamoku’s story to the screen. Chris Kekaniokalani Bright, known for penning “Conviction,” a 2018 Black List selection, is at work on the script.
Kahanamoku was the subject of the “American Masters” documentary “Waterman — Duke: Ambassador of Aloha” that debuted on PBS in May and was narrated by Momoa, a fellow Hawaiian.
Kahanamoku was a five-time Olympic medalist who broke records as a champion swimmer. He busted through racial stereotypes as a native Hawaiian competing across four Olympic Games in 1912, 1920, 1924 and 1932. After his athletic career ended, he ran gas stations in Hawaii and spent nearly 30 years as sheriff of Honolulu until the early 1960s. He died in January 1968 at age 77 after a heart attack.
Trademark rights to Kahanamoku’s name have been the subject of long-running legal disputes with members of his extended family and various business ventures. Momoa, Safran and the Carlsons are working with Don Love, the California investor who runs the Malama Pono Ltd. venture that has managed IP rights to Kahanamoku’s legacy since 1999.
“Duke’s story is one that has fascinated me for years,” Safran told Variety. “To now have the opportunity to tell it with the respect that it deserves, in collaboration with Jason, Chris and the Carlsons, is truly a gift.”
Added Eric Carlson, “We are all proud to be working with Malama Pono to tell the incredible true story of Duke Kahanamoku, one of America’s most overlooked heroes.”
The untitled film will “explore this iconic and gentle man as the legendary swimmer, trailblazer and the undisputed father of modern-day surfing,” according to producers. “Duke lived a life of compassion and inclusion as he embraced the true meaning of ‘Aloha.'”
Safran’s other credits include “Suicide Squad” and “Peacemaker.”