Respected California surf pioneer Kit Horn
By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
While his name has not often been included in discussions of surfing's golden age, to the fraternity of pioneering surfers whose exploits in California and Hawai'i helped to define the sport, Kit Horn was a beloved and revered figure.
Horn died of cancer March 25 at his home in Encinitas, Calif. He was 80.
"Kit was a fantastic athlete," said friend and Hawai'i big-wave surfer Peter Cole. "He was the kind of guy who was good at anything he did. But more than that, he was a really positive, enthusiastic kind of guy who everybody liked."
Cole and his brother Corny were a year behind Horn and fellow surfing pioneer Buzzy Trent when the four attended Roosevelt Elementary School in Santa Monica, Calif.
A schoolyard fight between Corny Cole and Trent eventually led to a lifelong friendship among the four. And when Horn and Trent began surfing in 1943, it wasn't long before they shared their knowledge with the younger Cole brothers.
As part of a small, tightknit community of surfers, the quartet would explore obscure surf spots up and down the California coast and, later, the legendary big-wave venues along O'ahu's North Shore.
Horn "didn't achieve a lot of notoriety," Steve Pezman, publisher of The Surfer's Journal, told The New York Times. But, "in the inner circles of surfing, he was a well-respected waterman. He was a part of the crew that was pivotal in developing the sport and the culture."
Cole recalled a day when he, Horn and two others visited remote Palos Verde Cove toting Bob Simmons boards that weighed as much as 130 pounds.
"We had to hike a mile down this steep hill, so Kit got a small kids wagon and we put our boards on it," Cole said. "Of course, when you push that much weight on a little wagon, it wasn't long before it took off without us, went off the cliff and sailed down the rocks.
"Kit's and my boards were still in good shape, but the other two were totaled," he said. "After that, we called our boards indestructible."
The description seemed to apply to Horn, as well.
After graduating from the University of Southern California in 1954 and serving two years in the Air Force, Horn focused his energies on his young family and his budding career in sales.
But as Cole noted, Horn's love of surfing never abated, and he continued to surf, nearly every day, well into his 70s.
"Part of his legacy is that he continued to surf well late in life," Cole said. "He didn't just surf, he continued to charge big waves in his 60s and 70s, right up until he got sick.
"When he would visit us, he'd stay for three weeks and he'd be up at 5 a.m. for dawn patrol. He never tired. He wanted to be out there eight hours a day. By the time he went back, I'd be exhausted."
Cole said he spoke frequently with Horn over the phone and had hoped to visit him this month. He said Horn retained his positive attitude to the end.
"He'd be the one to cheer me up instead of the other way around," Cole said. "That was the kind of person he was. He didn't get the hype or appear in the movies like other people, but what he did have was the tremendous respect of all of the top surfers."