Ben Carlson, a Lifeguard’s Legacy
Courage and selflessness
It was the end of a bustling 4th of July weekend along the picturesque shores of Newport Beach. Warm conditions, abnormally large and turbulent surf, and a sea of holidaymakers marked the atmosphere. The Newport Beach Lifeguards, tirelessly vigilant, had made an astonishing 562 rescues during that holiday weekend. Many of these rescues were dramatic, resulting in relieved and reunited families. However, the last rescue of that weekend would not follow the same script.
At 5:15 pm, Newport Beach Lifeguards Ben Carlson and Gary Conwell were patrolling beyond the formidable surf in an NBLG rescue boat. Their trained eyes spotted a distressed swimmer. Without hesitation, Ben Carlson leaped from the boat, embarking on a swim towards the struggling individual. After a long and arduous swim, Ben made contact with the distressed man. However, their journey back to the safety of the rescue boat took a fateful turn when an imposing wave crashed upon them, taking them over the falls.
The distressed swimmer managed to reach the surface and was rescued, but Ben was nowhere to be found. A frantic three-hour search ensued, involving members from seven different agencies, including Newport Beach Lifeguards, Fire, Police, Orange County Sheriff’s Harbor Patrol, Huntington Beach Lifeguards, Laguna Beach Lifeguards, and State Parks. Tragically, Ben was eventually located more than half a mile away from the original rescue location at 8 pm. Despite the valiant efforts of rescuers, he was pronounced deceased upon arrival at the hospital. Ben Carlson, at the age of 32, had become the first and only Newport Beach Lifeguard to lose his life in the line of duty since the service’s inception in 1923.
A lifetime dedicated to the ocean.
Ben Carlson’s legacy was not merely defined by the tragic circumstances of his passing but by a lifetime dedicated to the ocean. Serving with pride as a Newport Beach Lifeguard for over 15 years, Ben embodied the spirit of a waterman. His love for the ocean was ingrained in him by his family, who introduced him to the wonders of the sea through a lifetime of beach-going, surfing, and sailing. Ben, a Division 1 Collegiate water polo player at UC Irvine and a formidable swimmer, had surfed big waves across the globe, exploring distant shores.
Ben Carlson Memorial & Scholarship Foundation
In remembrance of Ben’s unwavering commitment to his lifeguard duties and his passion for the ocean, a statue was erected in his honor. This poignant memorial stands as a testament to his courage and selflessness. Gifted to the City of Newport Beach by the Ben Carlson Memorial & Scholarship Foundation, the statue represents the collective love of family, fellow lifeguards, and friends who cherished Ben.
The Foundation, fueled by funds from generous individuals and organizations, continues to operate in Ben’s name. It extends his legacy through annual scholarships, support for under-resourced children, and a crucial mission to develop and improve systems that protect both lifeguards and the public from the unpredictable and sometimes treacherous ocean—a fitting tribute to a man who dedicated his life to ensuring the safety of others. As we reflect on the life and sacrifice of Ben Carlson, we remember not just a lifeguard, but a hero. His spirit continues to inspire and protect those who venture into the vast and powerful embrace of the sea.
Ben’s selfless act and ultimate sacrifice exemplify the utmost courage and commitment to ensuring the safety of others. His story has touched me deeply. Ben’s legacy as a hero will undoubtedly endure, and his memory serves as a reminder of the incredible courage that lifeguards display in the face of danger.
Let’s honor the legacy of Ben Carlson. Everyone’s support can make a significant difference. Donations will contribute directly to the foundation’s chosen missions, ensuring that Ben’s memory continues to inspire positive change.
To donate and learn more about the foundation’s impactful work, please visit https://www.bencarlsonfoundation.org/donate
A documentary dedicated to Ben Carlson
Filmmakers Tim Burnham and Jack Murgatroyd undertook a project about the life of Carlson, as well as the full story of the dangers that lifeguards face every day.
“Part of Water” (2019) is a documentary film that poignantly recounts the tragic story of Ben Carlson, a dedicated
lifeguard who lost his life in the line of duty during a daring rescue amid treacherous ocean conditions. The film
serves as a tribute to Ben’s bravery and sheds light on the inherent risks and challenges faced by lifeguards around the world.
Through the lens of Ben Carlson’s story, “Part of Water” delves into the perilous nature of the responsibilities shouldered by ocean lifeguards. The documentary explores the daily sacrifices, courage, and commitment required to ensure the safety of beachgoers in the face of unpredictable and sometimes deadly ocean conditions.
The film not only memorializes Ben Carlson’s sacrifice but also serves as a broader reflection on the vital role played by lifeguards globally. It highlights the challenges they confront, the training and preparation needed for their demanding roles, and the profound impact that one individual’s dedication can have on the community.
“Part of Water” invites viewers to contemplate the courage and selflessness exhibited by lifeguards who dedicate their lives to protecting others. Through compelling storytelling and perhaps breathtaking visuals, the documentary aims to create awareness about the risks inherent in water rescue operations and the importance of acknowledging and appreciating the work of lifeguards worldwide.
By Severino Ricci
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