By Alex Kacik
Teddy Ritter never liked basketball — not until Kristopher Evens “K.C.” Carlsen showed him some moves.
“My son has a hard time getting to know people, but K.C. brought him into situations like pickup basketball games, which my son was too shy to go on his own,” said Susan Ritter, Teddy’s mom.
Carlsen, known as “K.C.” to friends, took Teddy under his wing. He taught him how to fish, play basketball and kayak. Teddy would wait for Carlsen, a commercial fisherman and 13-year veteran scuba diver, to return from his fishing trips and would help him unload and clean the fish, Ritter said.
But when Carlsen didn’t return Saturday, Teddy knew something was wrong.
Carlsen, a 27-year-old Santa Barbara resident, was lobster diving with his father, Dave, and a friend just north of Fraser Point off Santa Cruz Island when he submerged about 9 a.m. Saturday and never resurfaced, according to Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Drew Sugars. The Coroner’s Bureau is conducting an investigation to determine the cause of death.
“I don’t know how my son will deal with this from this point on,” Ritter told Noozhawk on Monday. “He hasn’t gotten to the point of crying because it hasn’t really hit him, but his comments are, ‘What am I going to do without him?’ It’s a huge loss.”
The Ritters aren’t alone in their grieving. Aside from fishing and diving, Carlsen made it a priority to help at the Page Youth Center, 4540 Hollister Ave., as a youth basketball coach.
“We felt like he was our kid who grew up here and went on to succeed,” said Wana Dowell, the Page Youth Center’s development director. “If anyone set an example for other kids, it was K.C. He was the kindest person, (he was) so sweet, everything nice you would want in a young man.”
Dowell said her fondest memory is a recent one, when Carlsen spoke to Page Youth Center donors about how important the facility was for him while he was growing up, especially during some of his most difficult years.
“He came dressed up in suit and spoke so eloquently about what it was like to grow up when his mother died (when he was 16),” Dowell said. “The loss that he went through was incredible. We could see his pain, but he kept a stiff upper lip.
“He was just an amazing young man. ... If anything summed him up, he was full of joy despite the hardships he went through.”
PYC executive director Bob Yost said Carlsen showed so much love for the children he coached despite not being a parent, which is rare. He said that from an early age Carlsen genuinely cared about other people.
“K.C. was just a good guy, interested in doing the right things the right way, and he wanted to make sure the kids understood that as well and maintained a good attitude toward life,” Yost said. “He affected a lot of kids over the years, so many families in this town were touched by K.C. — the next generation is going to miss out on that.”
Aside from volunteering, fishing was Carlsen’s passion. It was an industry in which he excelled, said Alaska charter Capt. Andy Martin, with whom Carlsen spent last summer captaining for Deep Blue Charters.
“It was incredible how enthusiastic he was about fishing every day,” Martin said. “Many people come to Alaska to experience a dream of a fishing trip, and K.C. worked hard to give them the trip of their life.”
He added that he was the first man at the dock and the last man out.
On his days off, while most of the crew was tired and content to relax after numerous trips at sea, Carlsen would get up at the crack of dawn, hike three miles to a small salmon stream and fish, Martin said.
Deep Blue Charters owner Steve Brown said Carlsen had the utmost care and respect for the guests. In fact, Brown had to break the tragic news to four groups of people who wanted to schedule times with Carlsen in Alaska next summer. It was the most rebookings the charter ever had with a first-year captain.
“He was a tremendous fisherman; not average in any way in fishing skills, just right at the top as far as being the type of fisherman who would bring guests back,” Brown said. “It’s always a tragedy to see a young man as talented and as thoughtful as he was ... he will be sorely missed by his friends.”
Whenever his friend and fellow fisherman, Steve Bior, saw Carlsen’s boat, the Golden Child, he felt more comfortable at sea.
“He was down to earth, always smiling, treated everybody the same,” said Bior, adding that he always looked forward to talking to Carlsen over the radio. “He was humble, trustworthy and an all-around honest man.”
Bior said Carlsen knew Santa Cruz Island like the “back of his hand.” He said Carlsen had had a good outing about a month ago and decided to go to the spot by Fraser Point. He was on a boat with his father and a mutual friend nearby when Carlsen went missing.
“He was someone I admired, always putting himself second; he was just a good friend and a good fisherman,” said Tony Vultaggio, friend and owner of Santa Barbara Sport Fishing Charters. “I’m still in shock about the whole thing. ... I know a lot of people respected him — even if you were around him for short period of time, you knew what kind of person he was.
“It’s heart-wrenching, it’s tragic. He’ll be a part of my life forever.”
Many of Carlsen’s friends said such a tragedy serves as a reminder that the sea can be unforgiving and deadly. But there are precautions that can be taken.
The most important safety tip is to dive with a buddy and properly maintained equipment, said Capt. David Bacon, owner of WaveWalker Charters and Noozhawk’s outdoors columnist. He said spots around Fraser Point are some of the most dangerous because of powerful currents, which also provide rich sea life.
“There was a new moon Saturday, as well; it’s one of the few times a month when the tidal influence is the greatest,” Bacon said. “It tends to add force to the currents.”
But Carlsen’s friends agreed he wouldn’t have taken a chance if the risk was too great, adding that he had an understanding of fishing and about life in general that transcended his age.
“The thing that struck me the most about K.C. was that he had an understanding how life works beyond his years,” Brown said.
One of Carlsen’s passions was showing people what he could see through his eyes, Ritter said, including his fiancée, Meagan O’Connor, whom he had asked to marry him two weeks ago. Ritter said she had never seen Carlsen so happy.
“Few people have that glow about them, outgoing personality and sense of caring,” Dowell said. “People aren’t always that open, you don’t get that often, with feelings of the heart.”
In addition to O’Connor, Carlsen is survived by a younger brother, Nate, an older sister, Emily, and his father, Dave, who raised the children after his wife died about 11 years ago.
“It’s like a family member passed,” Ritter said. “I just see my son’s life being different without him.”
Just as Carlsen showed him some moves on the court, Teddy is now helping autistic children through an elective at San Marcos High School, Carlsen’s alma mater.
“I truly think that part of reason for that was because somebody cared for him as much as K.C. did,” Ritter said. “He is kind of giving back now.”
The K.C. Carlsen Scholarship Fund has been established to provide deserving youth the chance to play basketball at the PYC. Contributions can be sent to Page Youth Center, P.O. Box 6766, Santa Barbara, CA 93160.