Kit Horn, Waimea Bay. Photo: Horn Family Archives

Rob Gilley

Previously in denial about his photographic past, Rob Gilley now rummages through his trove of mediocrity.

"Boy, that hill's a doozy."

I had no idea what to say. In front of me stood a 75-year-old man who had just hiked up the Black's trail on the biggest, best day of the year with a 6’5″ thruster under his arm. How do you react to that?

In the end I simply smiled because down to its essence, this was just a typical Kit Horn moment.

I had no clue who Kit Horn was until a friend of mine rented a room from him on the cliff above Beacon's in Leucadia. Even with a five-year stint working in the offices at The Surfer's Journal and an adult life spent surfing in North County, I had never heard his name mentioned.

Kit Horn broke swimming records, lifeguarded and free-dove all over California, received a swimming scholarship to USC, won two surfing championships, pioneered Northern California surf spots, beat a field of the best paddlers in the world at age 40, charged full-bore San Francisco winters in the early '70s, and caught a dozen giant waves at Waimea on one of the best days of 1969.

But you wouldn't hear it from him.

Despite being a Peter Cole and Buzzy Trent contemporary--with a similar list of oceanic accomplishments and talent--Kit Horn managed to fly his entire life under the public radar because of his humility, and because of his family dedication. His surfing took a back seat to providing for his brood, and he worked hard and raised four kids with his wife Gwen. But that's not to say that surfing wasn't on his mind. Actually it was on his mind constantly--slipping away and charging like a mad man whenever he could find a hole in his busy schedule.

Making up for lost water time became something of a theme in Kit's life, and drove one of the most active retirements in surf history. As soon as the kids were raised and gone, he stalked the ocean like a predator. He was that "crazy old man" who'd you hear about on the biggest days. Kit once told me a story about surfing gigantic Honolua Bay with his son Brit, and when I thought about it later, realized that Kit must have been in his 60s.

But much more important than his surfing accomplishments was Kit's attitude. God, the guy was so positive and talked like a little kid when surf would enter the conversation. I reckon he was the Original Frother.

A great description of this enthusiasm, and Kit's overall vibe is well summarized in Robert Wald's article about Kit in Ocean Magazine:

"All you have to do is mention surfing, fishing, or anything on, about, or near the ocean and Kit Horn's English eyes light up like the sky on the 4th of July. Kit has a way about him that can put you at ease--almost as if you've known him your entire life. He's your best friend with that great sense of humor and can take a punch with a smile and keep right on rolling...It's all real with Kit Horn."

Toward the end of his life Kit visited the retail business I owned, but I happened to be busy with a couple of customers, so I was kind of brief and curt with him. I now deeply regret this because as it turned out, Kit was deep in the throes of terminal cancer.

But you wouldn't hear it from him.

I will never forget the Original Frother though. The eternal grem. That enthusiastic little kid who lived in an old man's body. That shining light of stoke who had no bitterness or regrets, lived in the Now, and was such an inspiration. Kit Horn was, and should continue to be, a beacon for us all.