We have measured the in-plane magnetization dynamics of Ni81Fe19 films using the surface- and interface-sensitive second-harmonic magneto-optic Kerr effect. The dynamical magnetization was measured on patterned Ni81Fe19 stripes as a function of an in-plane magnetic field applied parallel to the anisotropy axis. The excitation sources were 100 ps risetime magnetic field impulses and steps. The minimum magnetization switching times were <300 ps, and precessional free-induction decay was observed. The dynamics for both impulse and step excitation are fitted to the Landau–Lifshitz equation, yielding values for the anisotropy field, gyroscopic splitting factor, and damping. The local surface precessional frequency and anisotropy are different from the average bulk values, demonstrating that this technique possesses the necessary sensitivity to detect variations in localized surface and interface dynamics. © 1999 American Institute of Physics.