A 30 Mile Paddle for a Fallen Hero: Lifeguard Ben Carlson

The Ben Did Go 3.0 is a now annual event to raise money for the Ben Carlson Memorial and Scholarship Foundation. Ben was a Newport Lifeguard who gave his own life in the line of duty to save a complete stranger.  If you don’t know his heroic and tragic story, get caught up here. 

This event was actually started three years ago by Solid Ambassador and Legend, Spencer Pirdy. The Ben Did Go 1.0 consisted of Spencer paddling to Catalina Island from Newport Beach, California on the first day, running a marathon on Catalina Island the second day (if you have ever been to Catalina Island, you cannot run 100 yds without an abrupt change in topography making it one of the most challenging marathons in the world), and then paddling the 30 miles back to Newport Beach on the third day. 

Spencer wanted to grow the event and thankfully realized that the rest of us are mere mortals, so it morphed into its current format. A group paddle, 30 miles, one way, one day, that ended with a lifeguard style Run-Swim-Run.  

As boats stacked and stuffed with paddleboards started arriving in Catalina Island, I was admittedly apprehensive and nervous about my involvement in the event.  After all,  I was one of the only paddlers to not know Ben Carlson personally.  I didn’t want to step on any proverbial toes but that thought quickly vanished as everyone, especially the Carlson’s, were beyond welcoming and grateful for everyone’s participation. Including mine. They even fed all the paddlers, support and safety 70lbs of tritip as event details, cheers, and thanks were exchanged. 

By the time I awoke at 0430 the day of the paddle, the camp was already stirring.  I  could smell the nerves and anxiety in the air and wished it was coffee.  Everyone was tiptoeing and whispering while breaking down tents and stuffing sleeping bags so as not to wake anyone up even though we were all awake and hardly any of us had slept a wink.  It was real Christmas morning excitement. We had a slog of a paddle ahead of us. 29.33 miles as the crow flies according to Google Maps which would have been the actual distance paddled if there weren’t any wrench-throwing variables like wind and current to account for set and drift. Who knows how many extra miles we were to paddle as a result? Three? Five? It wasn’t important. It could have been 29.33 extra miles and we would still be approaching the day with the same enthusiasm.  

The paddle itself was to be long and laborious and beautiful.  I was ready for the day. Admittedly undertrained, I re-read The Old Man and The Sea by Hemmingway a few days prior just to get in the right mindset.  If the great Joe Dimaggio could play through a bone spur, I wasn’t going to let this fish get the best of me. Haha. 

There was a Southeast wind, a South groundswell and a West windswell which made surfing impossible but kept a consistent Solo Cup size of chop splashing in our faces for nine hours straight. 

Nine hours is a hell of a long time to paddle on a tight reach but at least it gave us all ample opportunity to ponder and reflect.  The inflammation, exhaustion and pain was overshadowed by a sense of gratitude for Ben.  His friends assure me that he was an absolute lover of life yet he hesitated not when he was called to put his own life on the line for someone whom he had never even met.  This concept is so extreme and so valorous that paddling to support Ben’s legacy became easier and easier as the miles clicked away. 

It was beyond special to be a part of the Ben Did Go 3.0.  Safety and Support were, of course, hands down the MVP’s of the day.  When my beautiful family welcomed and congratulated me on the beach they asked, “Would you ever do something like that again?” I would in heartbeat because…. BEN DID GO.

Taylor Cotton