Family and friends of lifeguard Ben Carlson gathered at Newport Beach Monday, remembering the 15-year veteran as a friend and hero.
Carlson, 32, died Sunday during a rescue effort to save a swimmer in distress amid powerful rip currents and high surf.
Rob Williams said Calson was his best friend and mentor, who had recently posted warnings on his Instagram account about the dangerous conditions of the ocean. Lifeguards said swells come up from Mexico this time of year and hover between 15th and 17th streets near the pier.
“The areas are dangerous and unpredictable,” Williams said. “He showed us how the Pacific waves die down north of the pier and how swimmers need to be aware of their ability and where they go in.”
Throughout the day, locals gathered at the beach, many leaving flowers on the lifeguard trucks parked in the sand.
Carlson’s death is the first time the department has lost one of its own. The swimmer being rescued was not hurt.
Carlson’s friends recalled his athleticism - he was a triathlete - and his passion for the water. Carlson became a lifeguard at just 17.
“If Ben had to sacrifice his life to bring awareness to this, then that’s the kind of guy his is,” Williams said.
Wing Lam, owner of the local Wahoo’s Fish Tacos, said he and Carlson spoke about the strong surf in the days before his death. Carlson also worked managing the bars at Lam’s restaurants.
“There is a big swell. Be safe. Be aware of it,” Lam said, recalling their conversation. “That’s so ironic, right?”
Staff reporter Jacob Rascon contributed to this report.