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A Long Look Back

October 7, 2014

Over 50 years ago (yes, that’s a half a century), I was a member of the Rising Sons Surf Club in Sylmar, California. Although we were a motley looking bunch, we represented some of the very best surfers of the 1960s. We were bold back then and we did in fact think we owned the Pacific Coast from Mexico north to Santa Cruz.

Every now and then, I look back over those five decades and a certain feeling overtakes me. It isn’t nostalgia but rather a combination of pride and comfort. It is a feeling that escapes words and one that soothes the soul in its most fatigued moments. I even wrote a short book about our experiences back then on the waters of the Pacific Ocean: Fifty Years Ago – A Surfing Trilogy. The book tells of the fun experiences but what I left out were the not so fun times: the pain of being a teenager, the uncertainty of not having a plan and in my case, healing a badly damaged right leg. Surfing provided the cure for all three of these problems and provided me with a new confidence.

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Kenton Morse

Although I had many good surfing friends, one person has always stood out in my memory. His name was Kenton Morse. Kenton was the embodiment of the surfer attitude at the time. He was casual, a bit flip but always had an ability and comportment that helped see me through the difficult years at Sylmar High School. He had a laugh that sounded crazed at first but grew on you like a familiar ballad of the Beach Boys. Kenton was many things to many people but always a good friend of mine. He and I regularly surfed together, in part because we were both very good at our sport but also because we shared a common sense of iconoclasm. We were both rule breakers and we broke one hell of a lot of them together.

One afternoon in 1965, we had a surfing contest scheduled when we were all supposed to be in school. I arrived in the office of our registrar Homer Ganz with a fake looking note in hand; something about a fictitious doctor’s appointment. I was facing Mr. Ganz explaining my medical fantasy when behind him and through his window appeared Kenton in the parking lot with two surfboards hanging out the back of his station wagon. He revved his motor and his four inch glass pack mufflers regurgitated their loud howls. The poor registrar looked out the window then turned to me and said in a resigned voice, “Just go!”

Once in Carpinteria, California near Santa Barbara, Kenton was again revving his loud 1954 Mercury wagon, when a cop appeared out of nowhere to issue a ticket for loud pipes and driving without shoes. It was a big bust for those times. When the officer got back onto his motorcycle, it wouldn’t start. Kenton leaned out the window and asked, “What’s a matter? Won’t that piece of shit start?” Ticket number two followed swiftly. Similarly, it was Kenton who urged me to throw a lit cherry bomb out the window of my car as we left the boarder control station in Tijuana as we returned from a surfing contest in Mexico.

Kenton wasn’t my best friend; that is to say, we sort of drifted in and out of each other’s lives for a number of years. We both had closer friends outside of surfing, but when it came to the sport we were inseparable. The glue that held us together was probably our total lack of fear in the water and our unique take on pushing the line. Once in a Bob’s Big Boy drive-in restaurant, the police came to his familiar car to see if they might bust us for drinking beer. Kenton, always deft if not accurate, pushed our open cans through a hole in the floorboard next to the shift lever. When the beers hit the pavement, they began to foam and spin like pinwheels…. yup, busted again!

All of Kenton’s soul was there supreme the day that four of us were the first to successfully surf giant waves at Rizzi’s Reef in Ventura County, California. It was in fact Kenton who supplied the name after being dumped and bloodied by a twenty foot board buster. As he literally crawled to the beach after standing up on his board on the paddle out and getting slammed, he chuckled “That Rizzi’s Reef is a bitch!” We both agreed and the name stuck.

The next year, I was headed to college with the intention of writing the great American novel. As Kenton was a year behind me in school, we saw considerably less of each other as I cracked the books and he continued to crack the jokes. On October 7, 1967 I was studying Chaucer at school and Kenton was heading down the Pacific Coast to do some surfing near Camp Pendleton. He caught a flat tire and pulled over to fix it. While he was taking the wheel off the car, a drunk Marine from the nearby base veered off the road, sideswiping and killing Kenton instantly.

The funeral was a terrifying experience for me and one that I remember all too vividly. The music that was played was “Born Free” and virtually everyone Kenton had known showed up in disbelief. As I leaned into the casket to say goodbye, I couldn’t help to expect that my old friend would jump up out that wooden box, laugh his crazed laugh and tell me and everyone else that he was just screwing with us. That didn’t happen and I have had a hard time accepting that ever since. Friends like Kenton don’t come into our lives too often.

Today, 47 years ago, I lost the one true friend that kept me sane throughout high school. Thanks to you Kenton, I’m still here to tell the tale. I’ll be lifting a glass to you tonight and will continue keeping you in my heart…. that’s a promise from a friend.

Read author Allen E. Rizzi’s latest books available at Amazon.com

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10 Comments
  1. Michael Johnson permalink

    I too knew Kenton, and was a member of the Rising Sons Surf club in the 60’s. I also remember that awful day of finding out about Kenton’s death and the upcoming funeral that I attended with a few other club members snd friends.
    Thanks Allen, for those nice words and memory of a surfing friend of long time ago!

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  2. Thanks for remembering Kenton on this day…. indeed, it’s a long look back.

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  3. Childhood friends like Kenton are important in our lives. They operate like mirrors and sounding boards. They help us define ourselves for the years ahead. What wonderful memories you share here,

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  4. HEY Allen how ya doing .. just thought I would say something about Kenton . He was a good dude always liked him and he was a pretty good Sax Player .. it was so sad when he got Killed pretty sure it was a drunk driver .. what a bummer it’s always hard to see some one pass but at such a young age it’s really hard. Thanks for posting this article about the old surfing days… I lived in Huntington Beach for 45 years surfed there for about 30 years but I always liked it better up north . I sure miss the Ocean being here in Iowa but I don’t miss all the traffic.

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  5. Helmuth permalink

    Allen,
    Great article about Kenton. I knew the name, but not well. He was in my brothers class. My thought and prayers to Kenton and family. A tragic way to go. Hope he still surfing the big waves in the sky.
    And you now….Surfer turned Fly Fisherman….let’s hit the river/streams again soon. Water is water…lol….
    Helmuth.

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    • Yes, Kenton was in your brother’s class at Sylmar High. We’re talking about nearly a half a century ago.

      Just got back from the North Mills today. There are plenty of fish there but also plenty of fishermen.

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  6. Thanks to all of you who participated in this discussion. Kenton would have loved the attention.

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