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The highest lifeguard award presented by USLA is the Medal of Valor. The primary purpose for creating this award is to give due recognition to an individual lifeguard who voluntarily risked their life, to an extraordinary degree, in saving, or attempting to save another person, or who sacrificed themselves for the benefit of others. USLA also extends the Heroic Act Award to non-lifeguards.

2014 Medal of Valor Recipient:

  • Ben Carlson - Lifeguard, Newport Beach
  •        On July 6, 2014, Ben Carlson, a 15-year Newport Beach lifeguard, jumped off a boat to help rescue a struggling swimmer. He never surfaced. An autopsy determined that he died from accidental drowning and found scrapes and bruises on Ben’s forehead and nose. The swimmer made it safely back to shore. Conditions were turbulent, with waves reaching 10-12 feet. It was a weekend of many rescues because of strong rip currents. On July 13, nearly 1000 people turned out for a paddle-out honoring the 32-year-old lifeguard at Newport Beach. And, a memorial statue of Carlson will be erected on Balboa Pier. On Oct. 9, the United States Lifesaving Association issued its first posthumous Medal of Valor award to Ben Carlson, with his parents accepting in his honor. "We can never say thank you enough. What he did, saving that person’s life, was amazing. We just wish he was here to celebrate with us," said Mike Beuerlein, president of the California Surf Lifesaving Association.
    2012 Medal of Valor Recipients:

  • Mark Brown - Lifeguard, San Diego
  •        On November 20, 2011, a 19 year veteran San Diego Lifeguard responded to a man stuck in a waste-water treatment's drainage pipe (known as "Gorilla Cage") along the Tijuana River Valley. The undocumented immigrant was trying to cut across the swift waters near the water facility in heavy rainfall to the U.S.. The victim was approximately 12 feet down the 20 foot underground pipe on a narrow cement ledge with bolts sticking up and water and debris falling on him when Mark suited-up and entered the 2-foot pipe-opening to conduct the rescue. The area was difficult to access, as a continual flow of water and rising level contained all kinds of contaminated and hazardous debris. If the victim had fallen off the cement ledge, he might not have survived. "When you're a rescuer you really don't think about the outcome or whether I'm able to put my own life at risk. The main focus was to get him out of there in a timely matter," Brown said. The veteran lifeguard, a member of the Boating Safety Unit, regularly patrols an area from Point Loma to Torrey Pines State Beach.
  • Brian Higa - Lifeguard, Honolulu
  •        On February 8, 2011, an 18 year veteran Honolulu Lifeguard responded to a man sucked off a cliff by a 10-foot wave. Higa was on a routine patrol in a lifeguard pickup truck about noon when he saw four people looking over the edge "oblivious to the waves," despite the warning signs posted along the beach. They were past the road’s end at Yokohama Bay near an underground cave, called moi hole, that sends water spraying up onto the ground at its mouth. Suddenly, the large wave crashed against the cave, sending a man in the group into the water. Higa radioed to his partner that he was going after the man, put on his fins and helmet, and jumped off the 25-foot cliff "running man-style" with a rescue tube in hand, timing his leap to land in a swell. He reached his target, who was still conscious, placed him inside the tube and began a quarter-mile swim along the coast to a hole in the cliff, known as the keyhole. Higa had just swam against the current about 300 yards and was across the cliff opening with about 100 yards to go when he was became stuck in a vortex of currents coming from the moi hole and around the point. Because of Higa's knowledge of the surf, and how often the sets come in, he went for the hole. "People get stuck in there, and they die," Higa said. "When it's that rough it's kind of like a no-man's zone." While a lifeguard on a Jet Ski was on the way, Higa didn't want to risk getting caught against the rocks in a large set. Higa reached shore about 10 minutes after jumping in and was met by firefighters at the scene. Once the men were back on land, a large set came in, crashing against the rocks as the lifeguard on a Jet Ski arrived. "If (Higa) had waited any further, the victim and the rescuer would have just been like splatter against lava," Lifeguard Acting Lt. Hall Danon said. "It just went crazy. (Had they been there) it was death." Higa, who sometimes jumps off a cliff at Yokohama Bay as rescue practice, has extraordinary strength, which helped him avoid getting caught in the large rocks around the moi hole. He was also awarded the "Rescue Medal of Valour" from the International Life Saving Federation (ILSF) for 2012.

    CSLSA Lifeguard Medal of Valor
         Recipients from California agencies

      Albers, Bob 1999 San Diego, CA
      Bartlett, Mike 2005 Huntington Beach, CA.
      Beuerlein, Mike 1989 Huntington Beach, CA
      Blackford, Matt 2010 Newport Beach, CA
      Borland, Tim 2003 Port San Luis Harbor District, CA
      Brown, Mark 2012 San Diego, CA
      Buck, Nathaniel 2009 California State Parks, CA
      Carter, David 1991 Cal State Parks (Russian River District)
      Cicchetto, Sean 1996 San Diego, CA
      Coats, Eric 2006 Cal State Parks (Lake Perris)
      Corbo, Christian 1998 Laguna Beach, CA
      Culp, Casey 1998 California State Parks, CA
      Feighan, Mark 2010 San Diego, CA
      Fellars, Timothy B. 2009 California State Parks, CA
      Fesler, Jeff 2003 Port San Luis Harbor District, CA
      Gitelson, Joel 2006 Los Angeles County, CA
      Grigsby, Scott 1994 Los Angeles County, CA
      Griguoli, Rich 2003 California State Parks, CA
      Harris, Ed 1999 San Diego, CA
      Higa, Brian 2012 City/County of Honolulu, HI
      Horn, Brit 2005 Sonoma Coast State Beach, CA
      Keulana, Brian 1996 Honolulu, HI
      Korber, Paul 1998 Ventura County, CA
      (posthumous to rescue effort)
      Larsen, Billy 2003 Pismo Beach, CA
      Liebig, Peter 2010 San Diego, CA
      McDonald, Daryl 2010 San Diego, CA
      Meyer, Greg 2010 Newport Beach, CA
      Milligan, Joe 1989 California State Parks, CA
      Murphy, Timothy 1996 California State Parks, CA
      Northhelfer, James W. 2009 California State Parks, CA
      Panis, Marc 1989 Huntington Beach, CA
      Pepper, Laine 1999 San Diego, CA
      Quigley, Patrick 1998 Laguna Beach, CA
      Quigley, Patrick 1999 San Diego, CA
      (this is his second award)
      Raines, Dave 1999 San Diego, CA
      Snow, Kevin 1998 Laguna Beach, CA
      Sproull, Mark 1998 Laguna Beach, CA
      Stephenson, Michael 1996 California State Parks, CA
      Straub, Don 1991 Cal State Parks (Russian River District)
      Tegland, Ormand 1998 Laguna Beach, CA
      Trager, Tom 1998 Laguna Beach, CA
      Vipond, Jon 2010 San Diego, CA