Carol Schuldt has been described as the “Goddess of the Beach,” “Queen of Ocean Beach,” “San Francisco Carol,” or “Mother Teresa of the Sunset,” and was one of the original Beach Bums featured in a legendary article from Life magazine August 28, 1950, with a photo taken of her as a teenager by Loomis Dean in San Onofre, CA.
Carol was born on June 26, 1933 and while her family was quite poor due to the Depression, and her stepfather was a longshoreman, she was fortunate to take up surfing as a child. Carol shared a detailed account of her upbringing in the website Outsidelands.org with Woody LaBounty in 2013.
The reason I include Carol in the site is because in the 1960s there is footage of her trying out “sidewalk surfing.” She was part of a thriving beach community, literally living there, enjoying bonfires each night, and surfing constantly. Someone must have introduced a skateboard to the group, and Carol couldn’t resist. The footage emerged from a 2006 documentary called “Great Highway: journey to the soul of San Francisco surfing” (dir. Mark Gunson) about the history of surfing in the SF area told by the people who lived it.
Many of the surfers were part of a crew called The Power Squadron, surfing Kelly’s Cove. Arne Wong shared that Carol “lived there from dawn to dusk. She had a house with Tambi, but they never lived in it because they’d be there at dawn and they’d stay till way after dark. They’d build those fires every day, seven days a week.”
There was speculation that Carol was possibly a mermaid, and Wong recalled how, “When I finally made it to Kelly’s I was about 15, she was I think maybe 25. She was beautiful.” She was also often naked, oblivious to the trappings of “respectable” appearances and domesticity – an original hippie.
Wong noted that, “There were a few surfer girls who actually went under the tutelage of Carol. By the time I was eighteen there was maybe about fifteen of ‘em. They were their own tribe of women that were taught by Carol: how to get out there and bodysurf, ‘cause she was a master bodysurfer… They were buff, they were strong, and they were ready to go out there and charge into the water.”
Rebecca Nichols interviewed Carol at The San Francisco Public Library in 2005, as part of the Haight Ashbury Oral History Project. She shared how she raised her three children on the beach in the 60s and housed runaways who were tired of a conventional lifestyle or had problems at home. She continued to do so at the time of her interview and was always very compassionate even as the severity of drug use and addiction shifted, supporting people in recovery. Carol valued community, had empathy for all, and stayed consistent in her practises.
Carol was interviewed in 2009 for The Surfer’s Journal by Jaimal Yogis who was renting a loft from her, in the legendary three-story Victorian house with its wild garden and chickens across from Ocean Beach, where she consistently lived. Yogis considered Carol to be San Francisco’s patron surf saint considering her generosity. Yogis noted in 2017, that Carol was still bodysurfing in her 80s without a wetsuit in frigid waters. Carol believed that nature was God, the sea holy water, and the act of surfing a kind of meditation.
In Steve Kovacs feature on Carol called “High as a Kite” (2020) one of the interviewees described Carol as a “bad ass sea witch,” which is pretty rad! Check out the trailer here and also take a look at the music video from Canadian artist Afie Jurvanen (Bahamas) featuring Carol at age 82, living her best life here. Photographer Jessica Rattner documented Carol in a fantastic series called “Sea Change,” as a dynamic senior not deterred by age.
About her time in the 1960s, Carol said herself that, “I just am thankful that I was born at that time, Woody, and I had such wonderful friends out there. And it’s still beautiful. It’s gorgeous, you know. But, it was a community feeling, you know, and I’m thankful, again, that I was at that time at that place” (LaBounty).
Carol passed away on December 1st, 2018 and was offered a tribute by her friend, Ron Rattner who shared what an “extraordinarily intuitive free spirit” she was, and a true inspiration for many. Rest in Peace.
- LaBounty, Woody. “Tales from Kelly’s Cove: Arne Wong Interview.” Outsidelands.org. April 26, 2013.
- LaBounty, Woody. “Tales from Kelly’s Cove: Carol Schuldt Interview.” Outsidelands.org. May 9, 2013.
- Rattner, Ron. “Farewell Carol: tribute to an unforgettable friend.” Sillysutras.com. June 21, 2022.
- Yogis, Jaimal. “The Bracing Life of Carol Schuldt.” The Surfer’s Journal (Vol 18, No. 3), 2009.
- Yogis, Jaimal. “Is Surfing More Sport or Religion.” The Atlantic. July 23, 2017.
- Watson, Jamie Welsh. “Surf Fridays!” Pineapple Luv. June 19, 2009.