Newport Beach lifeguard headquarters renamed in honor of fallen rescuer

Newport Beach lifeguard headquarters renamed in honor of fallen rescuer
The family of Ben Carlson is joined by Newport Beach city leaders during the renaming of the city's lifeguard headquarters. (Susan Hoffman / Daily Pilot)

The headquarters for Newport Beach's lifeguards have been renamed in honor of a 32-year-old lifeguard who drowned last summer trying to save a swimmer, the only city lifeguard in 100 years to die in the line of duty.

The headquarters, at the foot of the Newport Pier, were dedicated in Ben Carlson's name Sunday during an emotional ceremony in which his family and fellow lifeguards pledged that the building would stand in remembrance of his sacrifice and as a reminder that the ocean commands respect and caution.


"When people look at the name on this building, our hope is that they remember our son," said Carlson's father, Chris. "We also hope they think about the young people in towers, trucks and boats who are working hard to make Newport Beach into this amazing community — fun and, most of all, safe."

Carlson was aboard a rescue boat July 6 when he received a call that a swimmer was stuck in larger-than-normal 6- to 8-foot surf. The lifeguard jumped off the boat and swam toward the man.

But a large wave slammed them underwater. The swimmer made it safely to shore, but Carlson did not. After a three-hour search, his body was found near the pier.

His death resonated in a city with such deep ties to its beaches and waterfront.

"It was amazing the way they drew close to us and really adopted us as one of their own," Chris Carlson said. "I don't know how he would react to all of this. He wasn't into the accolades."

When Carlson made the decision to dive off the rescue boat, he was doing what he loved, his father said.

"Ben exemplified the qualities we want to instill in all of our lifeguards," said Newport's chief lifeguard, Rob Williams. "He was highly skilled and dedicated to his profession, always prepared to do his job, and he never hesitated to help wherever and whenever needed. He loved his job and it showed."

Just before the dedication ceremony for the Benjamin M. Carlson Lifeguard Headquarters, 86 hopefuls swarmed the beach to try out for a spot on the Newport Beach lifeguard roster.

They competed in various endurance tests, each hoping to be one of the final 30 candidates.

It was the same test Ben Carlson completed 15 years ago.

Efforts continue to place a bronze memorial statue modeled after Carlson at the Newport Pier or Balboa Pier, said Jake Janz, Carlson's brother-in-law.

The Ben Carlson Memorial Foundation is accepting donations online, and this month Costa Mesa-based surfwear brand Hurley hosted an art auction that raised about $15,000 for the cause. The statue is expected to cost $125,000.