In messages and flowers, Newport Beach mourns drowned lifeguard

In messages and flowers, Newport Beach mourns drowned lifeguard
Newport Beach mourns lifeguard who drowned saving a swimmer. (Emily Foxhall / Daily Pilot)

Almost overnight, the messages on marquees, the bouquets of flowers and the condolences scratched out on chalkboards began to appear along the waterfront in Newport Beach in shared grief for a lifeguard who drowned trying to save a swimmer.

"Aloha Ben Carlson," read one at Rudy's Pub and Grill on the Balboa Peninsula. "Always Ohana," or always family.


"Love & Support 2 Bens Fam and N.B. Lifeguards," said another at Cruisers Pizza Bar Grill farther down the peninsula.

At the core of the community's outpouring of sympathy for Ben Carlson is its relationship with the ocean. The waves have drawn many but the waves are also what claimed Carlson's life last Sunday. He was the first lifeguard to have drowned on duty in 100 years.

"The water maybe unites us all, the love of the water," said Helen Shull, who owns Even Sisters on Balboa Island, where passersby have left notes in a box outside to be given to Carlson's family. "It's heartbreaking."

"Hero to the End," Avila's El Ranchito declared on its marquee. "Our Hometown Hero."

"We love you," spelled the letters at Malarky's Irish Pub, where Carlson once worked. "You will be missed."

Inside the bar, Carlson's red Newport Beach lifeguard jacket hangs, suspended from the ceiling above where several lifeguards tend bar and where many others have gathered to share memories since his death. They have also helped to raise money toward a scholarship fund.

"He's a local hero," said Katie Munson, a Malarky's employee.

Carlson was honored publicly Wednesday morning in a "swim-out," when a plaque was hung from the swim ladder at Newport Pier, near where his body was found after a several-hour search. Later that night, he was posthumously given an Excellence in Lifesaving award, recognized by Hoag Hospital.

Flags at all county buildings will be at half-staff through Sunday, when a paddle-out will be held in the morning and a beachside memorial service at night.

Although he didn't know Carlson, the guard was still "one of our own," said Ryan Lynch, an assistant manager at Mutt Lynch's, where a sign, like a headstone, reads "RIP" followed by Carlson's name and the date of his death, July 6, 2014.

"We wanted to pay respects to the community," added Mike Vayner, a manager at the bar, where lifeguards and firemen have stopped in for sandwiches for decades.

Notes, too, are tucked among bouquets of flowers piled at the Newport Beach lifeguard headquarters: "May you always find blue skies and fair seas during your Endless Summer," wrote the Carroll family.

A letter to the lifeguards from "Your Port Streets Neighbors," mounted on red paper, ends with the sentiment: "Thank you for all that you do and for all that you are."

On a flipper, the phrase "Rest in Paradise" is scrawled.


Emily Foxhall writes for Times Community News. She can be reached at or @EmFoxhall.