On October 31, 2003, 13-year-old Bethany Hamilton was surfing the waves off the coast of her native Hawaii when a 14 foot tiger shark attacked and bit off most of her left arm. Most people in that situation would be done with surfing. Not Bethany Hamilton. She did not let her disability get in the way of achieving her dream of becoming a professional surfer. Bethany Hamilton after the shark attack has been nothing short of inspirational.
Surfing is not easy to begin with - now imagine how difficult it would be with just one arm. Bethany had to re-learn how to surf, going back to square one and figuring out how to catch waves all over again. However, Hamilton was determined to not just surf again, but to be one of the best female surfers in the world, competing and ultimately winning on a professional level.
These amazing stories about Bethany Hamilton revolve around her faith. She is not just a professional surfer but also a wife, mother, motivational speaker, community leader, and entrepreneur. The facts about Bethany Hamilton and her incredible strength and resilience are so inspiring that a feature length movie called Soul Surfer was made about her life. Not all horrible stories end in tragedy, and Bethany’s tale of bravery and perseverance proves just that.
Bethany Hamilton lost her left arm below the shoulder and almost her life to a shark attack while she was surfing in Hawaii. However, the traumatic, life-changing incident did not keep Hamilton out of the ocean for very long. In fact, the surfer got back into the water just one month later.
"To me, it's like never getting in a car because you're afraid of a collision. Not surfing doesn't work for me," she said.
Hamilton was not going to give up her dream of becoming a pro surfer. "I get tons of letters... people saw that I didn't give up on my dreams," she explained. "I kept surfing - it helped them out a lot and that just shows that good can come out of bad stuff like this."
In 2004, Hamilton's autobiography Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family and Fighting to Get Back on the Board was published. A few years later, Hollywood came calling and adapted Hamilton's autobiography into the 2011 feature length film Soul Surfer. Actress AnnaSophia Robb played Bethany in the movie, which also starred Dennis Quaid, Helen Hunt, and Carrie Underwood.
Hamilton said that she was really happy with the way the film turned out:
"Well, you never really know what you’re gonna get when you combine Hollywood with a true story, but after seeing it I’m so happy with it. There was so much to combine - the accident, surfing, my faith - it makes the odds of it turning out good really low, but both my family and I are just stoked with how it’s all come together."
Hamilton actually played a big part in the movie by doing all the stunt surfing for Robb. "The scenes after Bethany loses her arm, that’s all me - I was very insistent that I wanted to do the surfing for the rest of the film. I also have a cameo, where I walk past the camera during a scene in Thailand. Blink and you’ll miss me."
In 2016, Hamilton was nominated for an ESPY award for best female athlete with a disability. The surfer decided to withdraw her name from consideration, because in her mind it would have been like “rewinding back to square one." The native Hawaiian has worked hard in order to achieve her dreams of becoming a competitive professional surfer, but she says that others still see her as a person with a disability.
“It’s funny,” she said, “when I first heard I was going to be nominated for an ESPY, the first thing I thought was: ‘Whoa, I’m going to be up for best female action sports athlete!’ It didn’t even occur to me that I was going to be placed in the disabled division... I don’t surf disabled or compete in a disabled category.”
Hamilton says the fact that she only has one arm is totally unimportant when she's competing. "I don’t look at it like, ‘Wow, I did a really good job with one arm.’ It’s just, ‘Wow, I did a good job on that wave.’"
The surfer did win the ESPY Award for Best Comeback Athlete in 2004.
Hamilton has competed and placed in several professional surfing competitions since the attack. Her most impressive pro achievement came in 2016 when she finished third at the Fiji Women's Pro Competition. It was the best wildcard result in WSL competition since 2012. Bethany had to beat a couple of the sport's best to claim third place, including six-time world champion Stephanie Gilmore and top-ranked Tyler Wright.
Kelly Slater, who is one of surfing's biggest names, praised Hamilton's competitive accomplishment:
“The hardships she overcomes to perform at the level she does in the ocean is arguably unparalleled in men’s or women’s sport,” Slater said regarding her top three finish in Fiji. “I think everyone should have a full surf with one arm strapped to their side and attempt not only to paddle out but put themselves in position at heavy spots like Pipe, Jaws, and Cloudbreak, and try to get up on a short board. I’m scared to try it myself and ridiculously impressed with her talents.”