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Remembering Kenton

October 6, 2017

Every one of us has someone in their past who is remembered but no longer with us. I have many such people in my past but the one who always sticks out is Kenton Morse. I wrote another blog about Kenton on October 7, 2014 but there just didn’t seem to be enough words in that post. The original is here: Here’s another attempt.

I knew Kenton as a student and friend over 50 years ago when we both attended Sylmar High School in Sylmar, California. In a world that now seems light years distant, Kenton’s memory always comes shining through. Initially we really were not best friends at all. He was a grade and a half behind me and initially had a different set of close friends. However we were thrown together in the Southern California world of 1960’s surfing and there his memory will always reside. Thankfully, we eventually became the closest of friends.

Kenton was born on August 10, 1949 and I remember him as being the only son of his parents. After he was admitted to the Rising Sons Surf Club, of which I was president, we became good friends with daily contact. He had an untamed side that I admired and a shrieking laugh that demanded friendship. He often drew me out of my seriousness and he certainly made me smile. Most of all, he kept me sane through a few tough years of my youth. Some simple memories from a faded photograph and an ever fading time in my youth:

In late 1965, Kenton and I were frequent visitors to Carpinteria State Beach, south of Santa Barbara. We’d become good friends by then and regularly headed up the coast together for surfing trips, either in his 1954 Mercury wagon or my 1956 Chevy Wagon. We surfed the beach break there together and got to know a few of the locals quite well. There was a guy named Joe who lived in a mobile home with his mother near the beach. He became our friend and also a local guide to the girls. Kenton and I would hit many a party in Santa Barbara with Joe and the three of us always seemed to have a blonde surfer girl on each arm. Those were the days!

On one trip up to Santa Barbara, Kenton and I were stopped by the local Carpinteria police due to Kenton’s loud muffler. Actually, as I recall there may have been no muffler at all as the custom of the day was to run open pipes. The motorcycle officer pulled us over in Kenton’s 1954 Mercury station wagon in a parking lot and immediately wrote out a ticket for excessive noise and driving with bare feet. (Yes, both were against the law back then.) As the office mounted his motorcycle to leave, it wouldn’t start. In typical Kenton fashion, my friend leaned out his window and yelled, “What’s a matter? Won’t that piece of shit start?” Oh yeah, the second ticket was written: Insulting a police officer. (Also against the law back in the day.)

At the then famous Bob’s Big Boy drive-in restaurant on Sepulveda Boulevard in San Fernando, California, Kenton and I played out a typical night. We drove in drunk as usual with open beer in the car and ordered a burger and their famous strawberry pie. Sometime after the burger, the local police drove through and spotted Kenton’s car. Immediately, they got out of the patrol car and approached us. Without so much as a blink of the eye, Kenton dropped the open beers through a hole in his floor boards and proceeded to assure the boys in blue that we weren’t doing anything illegal. It was a nice trick, except the beer cans rolled out from beneath the car to the officers’ waiting feet. Busted!

Kenton was one of only four people to surf what became known as Rizzi’s Reef. This little known spot is a reef break that comes to life only in the largest of storm surf on the California coast above Ventura. The first time it was successfully surfed, Kenton was there beside me as we paddled out into what seemed the middle of the Pacific Ocean. He had the balls to take the first wave and it was he who stood up while paddling up the face of another monster only to be crushed after an eerie laugh. He was always pure Kenton. You can read the full account at:

Kenton and I also double dated a lot when I was a senior in high school. He had a girlfriend named Leslie and I had one named Sharon. As I recall, our girlfriends were not particularly friendly with each other but what did it matter. Both Kenton and I had station wagons with blackout curtains in the back – kind of a surfer’s dream and a young girl’s nightmare. God knows those mattresses in the back of both cars were a mess of sand from the surfboards and the beach, usually cluttered with wet suits and surfboard wax. It didn’t seem to make any difference in the end.

Kenton 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!”

I graduated high school in 1966 and immediately headed to college with the intention of writing the great American novel. As Kenton was a year or more behind me in school, we saw considerably less of each other as I cracked the books and he continued to crack the jokes. One of the last times together found Kenton and me returning from a surfing contest in Baja California which was held at a beach called K38. We were both tired from the two-day event as we approached the northbound border crossing. When the border control agents began asking all of those questions they ask, I pushed in the cigarette light in my 1956 Chevy wagon. The agent gave us the go ahead just as the lighter popped back out. I then calmly lit a cherry bomb and dropped it at the agent’s feet as I speed off. Of course, I forgot the secondary border check some miles up Highway 101. It seemed like Kenton had finally rubbed off on me completely. Busted again? Oh, most definitely.

On October 7, 1967 I was studying Chaucer at Cal State Northridge 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 Camp Pendleton 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.

I always try to summarize Kenton in my mind: Kenton was a great friend and member of the Rising Sons Surf Club while attending school at Sylmar High School. He had an infectious laugh and could often be heard on the California coast yelling “Comin’ down!” as he jumped into waves at the last moment. He is missed by many of his old surfing buddies around the world. He is missed especially by me. Tight curls from all of us who are still around!

Tomorrow, 50 years ago, I lost the one true friend that kept me sane and laughing 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.

Note: Kenton’s photo from Sylmar High School yearbook, 1966.

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From → America, Surfing

  1. Reblogged this on allenrizzi and commented:

    Going through some old posts tonight and just got off the phone with another old surfing friend from the 1960’s, The tale needs telling again.


  2. James rogers permalink

    Howdy Allen I Liked what you wrote about Kenton . you told it Well . Sounded just like it was . I was visiting from Huntington Beach back in the Valley .. I was at Bob Schroeder’s House when he told me how Kenton had Died. Very Sad how some of the Guy’s from Sylmar Passed. Darrell Safford for one.. He was run down by a Car over in Germany .. what a Bummer 2 great guy’s gone way to Soon.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Karen Modugno permalink

    Dear Allen and Kenton (in Spirit)
    I just read your high school memories about Sylmar HS, surfing and your best friend.
    It is a diary kept…of long ago. Thankyou for sharing an intimate history. The separation from people in our lives who shaped us is devastatingly painful. Somehow, they live on within our stories….our hearts and in our dreams. We embrace the precious hours we spent together and try to recollect every detail. I send you and Kenton light, love and eternal energy from my soul. All we have is love ~ love is all that matters. ☮️🏄🏄🌠🌠🖤✝️

    Liked by 1 person

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