Jake Janz Takes to Art to Honor the Late Ben Carlson
Written By: Elaine Cutting Ben Carlson
On a turbulent day in 2014, 32-year-old Newport Beach lifeguard Ben Carlson gave his life to successfully rescue a swimmer trapped by dangerous waves. Carlson’s life and sacrifice are now honored in the form of a nine-foot-tall stainless-steel statue and a memorial scholarship foundation in his name. Over 2, 000 people arrived on July 6, 2016 for the unveiling ceremony of the statue, which features a vigilant lifeguard watching over the waters that Carlson was so passionate about protecting. This statue, a remarkable memorial of love and devotion to the fallen local hero, was designed and commissioned by Carlson’s brother-in-law, Jake Janz.
Q: What does this statue of Ben Carlson mean to you and to the community?
Jake Janz: Well, it’s a very personal piece. To me, it’s a statue to honor a hero. Ben saved a man’s life. We realized the impact this had on so many people’s lives and how meaningful a statue would be. Ultimately, this piece means a lot to me being that Ben was family. He was a true American hero, and he was deserving of it. I believe, as one of Ben’s friends and another member of our foundation, Skeeter Leeper, said in his unveiling speech, that this piece is all about community. Ben was not only a heroic lifeguard, but he was a big wave surfer who traveled the world, who loved his life in Newport Beach. He worked at a number of restaurants and he was very involved in the community. So this piece is iconic of the Newport Beach community because Ben was a little bit of everything and he tied all those worlds together.
Q: Tell us about your experience with the unveiling on July 6.
JJ: The experience was incredible. I was a little bit nervous going into it. I was emotionally so tied to it because of my connection to Ben. Also, in front of this community that Ben loved, I hoped that this piece would make him proud, would be iconic for this community. But, to see the drape come down and to hear the crowd celebrate, and the bagpipes playing while the sun set, and the flag was waving behind Ben, I felt like it was a true hero celebration.
Q: How did the unveiling solidify Ben’s presence as a hero in the community of Newport Beach?
JJ: Two thousand people show[ed] up wearing Ben Did Go clothing and the Ben Carlson t-shirts and hats. Everybody wanted to be there, because they understand the impact that Ben has made. I think the true story is about sacrifice and people feel that because there’s no greater gift than to give your life for someone else.
Q: Tell us a bit about your artistic process with this piece.
JJ: I wanted it to be brave and stoic and iconic. I know it’s a big piece. It’s in a big public place, and it’s gonna stand forever, hopefully. The process started in a 3D phase. I was able to work with really innovative technology. I spent about half the time working digitally and half the time sculpting in studio out of foam. When the foam was done, and all the details were completed, the piece was sent from Advanced Digital Manufacturing in Santa Ana to Masters in Metal, where the piece was cast and turned into the beautiful nine-foot-tall stainless steel statue.
Q: What do you hope people remember about Ben when they look at the statue?
JJ: I hope that people are inspired. Ben has inspired so many lives. I’ve heard friends talking about how they made changes in their lives to go in better directions, to start businesses, to live out their dreams, to go the extra mile. So we ultimately hope that people remember Ben for his bravery, but also remember that this piece is about ocean safety, it’s about honoring and respecting lifeguards and gratitude towards what Ben and his colleges have done and still do on a daily basis; saving lives.
Q: The Ben Carlson Foundation gives two $10, 000 scholarships to students with a past or presence in ocean lifeguarding. What is up next for the Foundation?
JJ: We have plans for the next few years of hoping to grow the scholarships even more. But to further do positive work, we’re also working on some Research and Development for Beacon Technology, in helping track submerged swimmers that may be unconscious. We’ve also just recently launched a clothing line with Hurley. They created a custom line of Ben Carlson Phantom board shorts with an image of Ben’s paddle out. It’s an aerial shot that was taken from a helicopter. You see thousands of people in the water that celebrated Ben after his untimely passing. We plan to do more with Hurley, but it’s very special to have their support. We’d still like to guide people to our website, www.bencarlsonfoundation.org, where we’re [hosting] ongoing fundraisers and trying to give back to this community.
Ben Carlson Statue Shining Bright in Newport Beach, Thanks to Jake Janz