An ode to the original frother

| posted on November 13, 2012

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.

  • Chaplin

    Sounds like you’re writing a eulogy

  • FTW

    Its sickening to see how low surf culture has fallen. A bad ass who lived a full life gets a tiny little write up and a single photo while the bieber clones inundate the ether, prostituting themselves everywhere in order to push shitty product. I don’t know who the fk is going to be inspired by all the perpetually adolescent models living in their gilded bubbles, and without inspiration there is no soul. The surf industry as pushed by the media has become such a pathetic sham its no wonder more kids respect skateboarding – still raw and pure for the most part. Lets see more articles on real dudes, real adventures – not tripe for the fembots.

  • chris ahrens

    Kit Horn was a hero to me all my surfing life. We would see him paddle out when nobody else would even try. Peter Cole said he would have been the best big wave rider of their time, if he had stayed in the Islands. Instead, he traveled north to ride major reefs in Nor Cal and beyond, long before most others even know which road to take. He was a surfer and a diver and, even in his advancing years, none of us could keep up. I miss him. Thanks for the article.

  • Mik

    @FTW: ?

    Grow up.

    Surf companies make great products, there’s tons of great new surfers who are surfing at levels previous generations never even thought of, life is constantly changing, progressing. The world evolves…

    You should too.

  • S4P

    Sadly there is a truth within FTW’s post. Surfers progress anyhow with or without the help of the the surf companies. Evolution can and often does take place without the help of “industry”. If anything “industry” perpetuates an image of surfing that frankly doesn’t necessarily reflect reality… rather it’s what they think will sell and that’s where the sham is… Certainly, not all companies do this, but more than enough do so to warrant a rant from FTW. Make surfing your own… Treasure it and keep it pure so that we can pass it along to future generations as it always should be… food for the soul…


    I am 58 years old and sometimes I feel tired surfing 6 feet waves , but after read about this great waterman I wont be feel tired again ….God bless you Kit….j