Thousands poured in to the foot of the Newport Beach pier Wednesday to honor a hero. The gathering was an official unveiling of a statue memorializing Ben Carlson, the first Newport Beach lifeguard to lose his life in the line of duty.
Two years ago, during a big summer swell, Carlson responded to a man in distress. During the rescue, the pair were reportedly hit by a 10 to 12-foot wave. The man made it safely to shore, but Carlson did not. His body was found three hours later.
The impact of the unprecedented tragedy, at the time, sent shockwaves through the community. But the establishment of the Ben Carlson Memorial and Scholarship Foundation, and the dedication of lifeguard headquarters in Carlson’s name were indicative of a collective resilience among locals, fellow lifeguards, friends, and family alike.
The statue built in Carlson’s likeness is a physical embodiment of that resilience, and simultaneously a representation of what it means to put the lives of others before oneself. The tagline of the Foundation, “Ben would go. Ben did go,” (a take on “Eddie would go”) appeared on hats and t-shirts throughout the night, representing the spirit of the celebration.
The way the community has come together over the loss is inspiring, especially for the Carlson family. “It sort of diverts your grieving when you see all the love people are giving you,” Teri Carlson, Ben’s mother,said. “This community has been kind and caring, and they’ve embraced us.”
The statue has been a core component of the Ben Carlson Foundation’s mission since its founding. The Foundation also promotes ocean water safety, awards two $10,000 scholarships annually, and supports under resourced youth programs.