DP 103 In memoriam: Ben Carlson


When 32-year-old lifeguard Ben Carlson died while rescuing a distressed swimmer in July, he was mourned by his students in the junior guards, players he had coached in water polo and people with whom he worked on the shores of Newport Beach.

The 15-year veteran’s death was the first in the Newport Beach lifeguard organization’s 100-year history, and the city showed its respect and admiration by holding paddle-outs, planning memorials and displaying signs at businesses, many of which said, “Ben Would Go.”

The phrase was adapted from “Eddie Would Go,” a tribute to Hawaiian surfer and lifeguard Eddie Aikau for his willingness to pull people out of even the roughest of waves. He was killed in 1978 during an attempt to save victims of a capsized canoe in which he had been riding.


Carlson was manning a rescue boat July 6 when he got a call that a swimmer was struggling in a 6- to 8-foot swell near 16th Street. The National Weather Service had warned of dangerous rip currents and high surf that day, which saw about 200 rescues.

After Carlson reached the swimmer, a large wave slammed into them, sending the two under water. The swimmer resurfaced and survived. Carlson did not. His body was found near the Newport Pier.

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

Inside Malarky’s, Carlson’s red Newport Beach lifeguard jacket hung, suspended from the ceiling above where several lifeguards tend bar and where many others gathered to share memories after his death.

In September his family accepted a $10,000 donation at a Los Angeles Dodgers game on behalf of the Ben Carlson Memorial and Scholarship Foundation, which aims to provide scholarships for students, improve ocean safety and support organizations with a history of giving to impoverished youths. Carlson was a Dodgers fan.

At a Newport Beach City Council meeting in November, Carlson’s family accepted a $10,000 check from The Fallen Heroes. The money will go toward promoting ocean safety and providing scholarships for students.

At that same meeting, the council voted to rename the lifeguard headquarters after Carlson. The Ben Carlson Memorial and Scholarship Foundation is working to create a statue of Carlson at the base of the Balboa Pier, near the Newport Beach Junior Lifeguard headquarters.

The foundation hopes to unveil the statue on July 2, Carlson’s birthday.