Beloved surfer dies in fire

He inspired the same adoration the late legendary surfer Miki Dora earned.

By Vicky Newman/Special to the Malibu Times

A surfer, well-known to the Malibu surf community, died last week in a fire that is currently under investigation.

Morgan Bonan, 30, was inspirational, playful and one of the best surfers to come out of Los Angeles.

Someone whose smile made you glad to be alive but who “got on the wrong path” with drugs.

These are memories that friends of Bonan shared Saturday at a memorial at Surfrider Beach. Nearly 100 people from as far away as Wrightwood gathered to say goodbye.

Bonan’s love for surfing and unhappy end can be explained by his upbringing, longtime friends Evan and Michele Cales said.

His mother died when he was 3 years old, and his father, John, a Sherman Oaks landscaper who also loved surfing, raised Bonan.

“His father was kind of laid back, who raised Morgan as a free spirit,” Evan Caples said. “He didn’t instill any discipline.”

Bonan graduated from Birmingham High School in Van Nuys and, in between tours on the professional surfing circuit, lived in the Valley with his former fiance, Ahna Rymer, or his father, Michele Caples said.

Bonan made it to the finals of the United States Pro Tour held in Malibu in 1994.

His immense popularity and signature surfing style can also be traced to his childhood.

He met many friends, including Evan, when he set up a skateboard ramp in his backyard, Michele Caples said.

“He was one of the most loved people on the beach, a soul surfer who just surfed for the love of it,” fellow surfer Dino Bortoli said. “He was a natural in life, a natural in the water.”

“He reminded you of Miki Dora,” said Evan Caples, referring to the late Malibu surfing icon.

“To watch you was the inspiration to try harder,” Bill Bodwell wrote on a memorial photograph poster at the beach. “Your style and grace always put a smile on our face.”

Bonan was a natural athlete who excelled at mountain biking and tennis as well as water sports, said Malibuite Ricky Schaffer.

“He had a sense of fun that was like being in Disneyland,” remembered Schaffer. “He would come up behind you and tickle your ear and say in a giggly voice how much he loved doing it.

“You were so lucky if you heard that voice,” Schaffer said tearfully.

Of the troubles Bonan had been facing, Schaffer said, “I sensed that he was unhappy but I didn’t know how deep he was in.”

Bonan dropped out of his professional surfing career in the late ’90s and was just beginning to resurrect it last year, friends said. He had been living in a garden storage shed in Sherman Oaks, where he was found dead.

“He got on the wrong path, he was trying to find his way,” said Michele Caples.

His death in the fire is under investigation by the arson section of the Los Angeles Fire Department, the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County Coroner.

In addition to his father, Bonan is survived by his sister, LeeAnn.

The Caples are raising money to bring Bonan’s father, who lives in Montana, to California. More information can be obtained by calling 805.653.7316.

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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