Skip to content

A Long Look Back

June 26, 2022

Well 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: And Other Surfing Stories from the 1960’s. 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.

MorseKentonFix

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, over a half century 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

Books JPG

3 Comments
  1. Gregg Clemeaux permalink

    Thank you so much for this beautiful story. As You brought me back to my days at Sylmar High School and some of my surfer friends, some of them I have since lost. We also had our share of stories of drinking beer and getting stopped by the police ,and just crazy fun times and some with your own brother David in his 55 Chevy station wagon. You and I talked several yrs ago and I told you about a couple of them 🙂 My name is Gregg Clemow/Clemeaux and I graduated in 1970 and I lived in San Fernando on Warren St. not far from Piggly Wiggly Market. I now live Boise Id.
    I read your story to my wife this morning on our patio and I found myself very emotional with tears rolling down my face , and I am not a very emotional guy per say. I want to thank you for taking me back to those wonderful days. It was a great time to be alive 🥲
    Gregg….. greggclemeaux@yahoo.com

    Like

  2. Grand story and grandly told.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: