Ben Carlson, Fallen Newport Beach Lifeguard, Remembered with Memorial Services and Fund

See the update on page 2 with details on a memorial fund and services for Ben Carlson as well as more about the fallen lifeguard.

ORIGINAL POST, JULY 7, 8:26 A.M.: A 15-year veteran of the Newport Beach Lifeguards last evening became the first city lifeguard to die in the line of duty.


That same morning, at the dog beach at the Santa Ana River mouth, I'd wondered, with the large waves crashing into shore, why so many surfboards (and surfers) remained on the beach. Turns out there were dangerous rip-current conditions along the coast, more of which is forecasted for today.

Carlson noticed a swimmer in distress in 6- to 8-foot surf and, as he is trained to do, dove in shortly before 5 p.m. Sunday. The 32-year-old lifeguard made contact with the unidentified man just as a large wave hit both. The swimmer was successfully pulled from the ocean and made a full recovery, but Carlson momentarily disappeared.

“The other lifeguard personnel at the scene attempted to rescue and assist Ben, but–due to the turbulent water conditions–they were unable to do so,” says Jennifer Manzella, the Newport Beach Police Department spokeswoman, in a statement.

“Members of the Orange County Sheriff's Department Harbor Patrol, Laguna Beach Lifeguards, State Parks personnel, and the Newport Beach Police Department helicopter joined Lifeguard and Fire staff in the search for Ben. In all, 25 individuals conducted a search in the water, supported by 30 others on shore (including City Manager Dave Kiff) and air support.”

Carlson was eventually located around 8 p.m. and rushed by Newport Beach paramedics to Hoag Hospital, where he died. Cause of death is presumed to be drowning, but the county coroner is conducting an autopsy to make that official.

City officials say Carlson is the first lifeguard to die in the line of duty in the history of Newport Beach Lifeguards. His chief told reporters this morning Carlson will be afforded all the honors of someone who belongs to that storied “brotherhood.”

UPDATE, JULY 9, 11:05 A.M.:: The City of Newport Beach has posted ways to remember fallen lifeguard Ben Carlson, through two services Sunday and a memorial fund.

A memorial paddle out will be held at 9 a.m. Sunday at Newport Beach Pier as “a way of honoring the fallen who had deep ties to the ocean,” reads the city post. Participants will gather on the beach before paddling out beyond the break, where they will form a circle of honor. They will be close enough to the end pier that non-surfers can watch.

That evening at 6:30, Carlson will be remembered at a memorial service on the beach at Orange Street in Newport Beach. Casual or “aloha” attire is requested.

The city says it has received a number of inquiries from community members wishing to make donations in Carlson's honor, and at the request of the late 32-year-old's family, the Newport Beach Ocean Lifeguards Association (NBOLA) has begun a scholarship in his name. Donations can be sent to Newport Beach Fire Department, Attn: NBOLA, P.O. Box 1768, Newport Beach, CA 92658-8915. Include “Ben Carlson Scholarship Fund” in the memo line on your check. All donations are tax-deductible.

Carlson leaves behind his father Chris and mother Teri Carlson as well as his younger sister Stephanie Janz of Corona Del Mar.

The city's post includes a biography of Ben Carlson that indicates he grew up in Rancho Cucamonga and attended Etiwanda High School, Riverside Community College and UC Irvine, where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology in 2005. He played water polo under UCI coach Ted Newland.

Carlson was hired as a Newport Beach lifeguard on March 26, 1999, and, according to the city, “quickly became a leader in the organization, mentoring both new and more experienced lifeguards throughout the city. He was generous and readily shared his experiences and insight with others, always striving to improve the agency's beach performance.”

Assignments over his 15-year career included tower lifeguard, unit lifeguard, Junior Lifeguard instructor, dispatcher, and rescue boat deckhand. The latter was his favorite role; he made his final dive off a rescue boat to save a swimmer Sunday.

Carlson had also bartended at Malarkey's Irish Pub, Landmark Steakhouse, RA Sushi of Huntington Beach and Wahoo's Fish Taco. In fact, he'd recently worked with Wahoo's co-founder Wing Lam in setting up new restaurants throughout the country.

Read more about the talented man Orange County lost here.

View photos of Tuesday's memorial procession on the following page.


Email: mc****@oc******.com. Twitter: @MatthewTCoker. Follow OC Weekly on Twitter @ocweekly or on Facebook!

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