"He was happy and everything. He wanted to go fishing, 'cause we often go do that with him," his son, Rene Vela, said.
But the water that looked harmless from shore became deadly. It started when a family friend's young daughter got into trouble. Fourteen-year-old Rene Vela tried to help and soon got caught into the currents himself.
"When I was trying to save the little girl, I just took another step I just went all the way down. I couldn't get air," he said.
The teen says neither he nor anyone in the family really knew how to swim, but when his father saw that he was in trouble, he went into the water anyway.
"He's a brave man, I think it was a father instinct," uncle Jaime Cardenas, said.
"He kept pushing me to shore so I can get there, and then he just decided to give up," Rene said.
Rene made it to shore, but by the time his dad was pulled from the water, it was too late.
Through her tears, Gloria Vela describes her husband of 25 years as a hardworking man whose main focus was providing for his family and he died trying to save them.
"He risked his life for me, and I'm happy to be alive and not dead," Rene said.
The Vela family says they plan on laying Juan to rest on Wednesday.