Lifeguard Ben Carlson honored as hero in beautiful paddle-out memorial

In a heart-wrenching paddle-out memorial for the lifeguard who drowned attempting to save a swimmer’s life, mourners and supporters in massive numbers lined Newport Beach and its pier, and took to surfboards and boats to form a circle on the water on Sunday.

Officials estimated 5,000 were on the pier and beach, and 2,500 in the water, making it one of the largest paddle-out memorials in Orange County history, according to the Orange County Register and Los Angeles Times.

They were there to honor Ben Carlson, 32, who became the first on-duty fatality in the 100-plus years of Newport Beach lifeguards.

With giant waves and swift rip currents creating dangerous conditions Sunday, July 6, the 15-year veteran did what lifeguards do, entering the water just after 5 p.m. to rescue a struggling swimmer.

Carlson was slammed by a large wave, pulled underwater and disappeared, prompting a three-hour search. His body was discovered just before sundown. The struggling swimmer ultimately made it to shore.

Lifeguard Ben Carlson is honored with one of the largest paddle-out memorials in Orange County history. Photo is a screen grab from video by EP5 Productions
Lifeguard Ben Carlson is honored with one of the largest paddle-out memorials in Orange County history. Photo is a screen grab from video by EP5 Productions

At the Sunday morning paddle-out, a chant went up at the end of the pier: “Ben, Ben, Ben,” the Register reported.

Surfers sat on their boards and splashed water to the sky. Flowers were tossed into the water. Hawaiian leis were floated on the water. A dozen rescue boats sat nearby and sprayed water, as shown above in the emotional video by EP5 Productions.

Newport Beach lifeguard Ben Carlson
Newport Beach lifeguard Ben Carlson, who drowned while attempting to save a struggling swimmer

Carlson’s family sat in the middle of the circle of people and placed his flowers-adorned surfboard in the center.

A second memorial on the beach at Orange Street drew 5,000 people, the Register reported. Carlson’s family was given the Newport Beach Fire Department’s Medal of Valor on Ben’s behalf, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher presented the family with a tribute flag, and bells were rung to salute the fallen Newport Beach lifeguard.

Newport Fire Chief Scott Poster told the Register that lifeguards from around the world—as far away as Australia and Israel—have sent emails and well-wishes to the agency.

“The department has taken a tremendous loss,” Poster told the Register. “He was a really nice guy, always had a smile on his face…He was a world-class surfer. He had been all over looking for large surf. He was an excellent waterman.”

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