Family members, friends and fellow lifeguards held a memorial paddle-out Tuesday at Kailua Beach Park for well-loved and respected Ocean Safety Lt. Joshua Guerra.
Guerra, a lifeguard for 17 years on Oahu’s east side, died Aug. 21 during a night surfing accident in Waikiki. He was 42.
A light rain fell as they gathered on shore together in prayer, and then shared stories of Guerra, who was remembered for his kindness, aloha spirit, and embracing all that he did in life. The location, fronting Flat Island, was chosen because it was where Guerra caught his first wave.
“I think the underlying thing with Josh was he just treated everybody so honestly, openly and fairly,” said older brother Steve Chamberlain, also an Ocean Safety lifeguard. “He loved (being a lifeguard) and he was very vocal about making sure other lifeguards were at their best. That was a big deal for him.”
Younger brother Nick Guerra called Josh “humble to a fault,” and said he was a mentor to him and many others.
“Josh was always Josh in everything that he did,” he said. “He was who he was as a lifeguard, as a musician, as a brother, as a friend, as a son, even just to strangers. He was just always compassionate and kind. He was a consistent dude in all things.”
Those who worked with Guerra called him a hero with a big heart, and as someone other lifeguards looked up to. He saved hundreds of lives.
“If you knew Josh Guerra, you knew him first by his big smile and even bigger heart,” said Honolulu Ocean Safety in an Instagram and Facebook post. “A smile that captured his entire outlook on life, a heart full of aloha for others … He loved lifeguarding. He loved keeping people safe and saving lives. We were blessed to have Josh watch over us at our beaches and we know he continues to guard over us all.”
During the ceremony, friends shared that Guerra’s kidneys and liver were donated, as he wished, to save three other lives.
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell thanked Ocean Safety lifeguards for what they do every day.
“I hear he was so loved by everybody, and that’s evident by everyone here today,” Caldwell said “Thank you all for your service.”
The water was smooth as friends and family paddled out, by canoe as well as surfboard, forming a large circle in the ocean to scatter Guerra’s ashes. With whoops of joy, several rode Jet Skis around the circle, celebrating Guerra’s zest for life. Some surfed an honorary wave in his name.
“He’s just a genuine person,” said longtime friend and fellow lifeguard Kurt Lager after the paddle-out. “He didn’t do anything without thought or care. If he did something, he did it right. He was a man of his word both at work and outside, and he always put other people before him.”
Lager said he would remember Guerra most for his “stoke” for other people.
“It really made him happy to see other people do well,” he said.
Born May 11, 1976, in Fresno, Calif., Guerra grew up in Colorado and Kansas. He is a graduate of Texas Christian University, where he studied history and geology.
It was during a Red Cross course in college that Guerra saw a documentary about lifeguards in Hawaii, and was inspired to become one. He moved to Hawaii full-time in 2002. He worked hard to become part of the Ocean Safety team in Honolulu, eventually becoming an esteemed Jet Ski operator, and was most recently promoted to lieutenant.
Besides working in Ocean Safety, Guerra was a mountain climber, a drummer in numerous bands and an accomplished yoga practitioner.
The family nicknamed him “The Goat” for his sometimes messy curly hair and fearless mountaineering skills — and for once eating a bag full of grass clippings.
They liked to tease him about being elected “Sweetheart King” his senior year at Blue Valley North High School in Kansas. They said he loved Hawaii, including its culture and traditions, which he respected deeply.
Earlier Tuesday morning, friends and family also held a private ceremony scattering some of Guerra’s ashes at Makapuu Beach, a spot that he loved and guarded for many years. Kailua Beach Park will always hold a special meaning because it is where Guerra first became a waterman, as well as where he sometimes worked as a lifeguard.
Guerra is survived by his dad Frank Guerra (Jo Graybill); his mom Randy Stevens (Tad Chamberlain); and siblings Steve Chamberlain, Nick Guerra, Sarah Frank and Michael Graybill.