Bethany Hamilton, a homeschooled surfer girl, had high hopes for making surfing her career. Then one day she was attacked by a shark that bit off one of her arms. Less than a month after the incident, the 13-year-old returned to surfing with an unbelievably positive attitude. Overcoming all odds, Hamilton went on to win several professional championships. The story of her tragedy and determination to rise above adversity has been told in hundreds of media outlets, both nationally and internationally, inspiring millions worldwide.
Bethany’s autobiography is titled Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board. Now a major motion picture, Soul Surfer is coming to theatres on April 8, 2011. Hamilton also has several other books credited to her name including Ask Bethany: FAQs: Surfing, Faith and Friends, Soul Surfer Devotions, Rise Above: A 90-Day Devotional, and the Soul Surfer Bible. This NIV Bible helps girls eight to twelve apply Bethany’s messages of courage, hope, and faith – and it also comes with surfing tips, diagrams, and lingo.
Bethany Meilani Hamilton was born on February 8, 1990, in Kauai, Hawaii, where she grew up with two older brothers, Noah and Timmy. Hamilton’s parents were both surfers who had moved to Hawaii from the continental United States for the surfing opportunities. They started teaching Bethany how to surf at a young age, and she learned quickly with the support of her brothers. By age eight, Bethany was winning first place in surfing contests for her age group. Hamilton began competing more seriously at the age of nine, winning several more competitions in her age division.
Bethany was homeschooled which gave her more time to surf. Initially enrolled in an academy with strict deadlines, after 6th grade she moved to a self-paced distance-learning curriculum through the American School of Correspondence. Hamilton explained in her autobiography, “I homeschool. It makes it easier to be a career surfer and to travel. My mom is my teacher and I get a lot of my assignments online. Typically my workload is just like that of a public high school student with the exception that I can do it on my hours. A lot of my friends are homeschooled as well (such as Alana), so we end up having the same schedule of surfing, traveling, and then homework” (Soul Surfer, p. 60-61). By age 13, Bethany was already well-respected in the surfing world and had picked up a sponsor, Rip Curl, which aided with her goal of becoming a professional surfer.
In addition to passing along their surfing skills, Hamilton’s parents instilled in Bethany their Christian faith; and at age 5, she made the decision to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Bethany’s foundation of faith has been her source of truth, hope, and strength ever since. “Being out there in the ocean, God’s creation, it’s like a gift He has given us to enjoy,” she describes the surfing experience. “Of course I do stuff with my church, the North Shore Community Church. Doing things with my Christian friends is an important part of my life, because it really is encouraging to have others who, like me, want to be close to God” (Soul Surfer, p. 58-59).
On October 31, 2003, Hamilton and her friend Alana Blanchard, along with Blanchard’s father and brother, went for a morning surf at Tunnels Beach on Kauai’s North Shore. Within a “split second,” a 14-foot tiger shark attacked Bethany, severing her left arm just below the shoulder. Hamilton’s friends helped paddle her back to shore, wrapped a surfboard leash tourniquet around what was left of her arm, and rushed her to the hospital. Hamilton’s dad was scheduled to have knee surgery that morning, but she took his place in the operating room. Bethany made it through several surgeries without infection, and miraculously survived even though she had lost almost 60% of her blood.
Despite the traumatic ordeal, Hamilton was determined to continue pursuing her goal. After teaching herself to surf with one arm, she once again began surfing competitively. In July 2004 Hamilton won the Best Comeback Athlete ESPY Award, and she was presented with a special courage award at the 2004 Teen Choice Awards. In 2005, Hamilton took first place in the Women’s division of the 2005 NSSA National Championships – winning her first National Title. In 2007, Bethany realized her dream and turned pro. Bethany began competing full-time in numerous Association of Surfing Professionals and World Tour events, with her major highlight so far being a second place finish in the ASP 2009 World Junior Championships.
In her book Ask Bethany she says, “Some people don’t survive their shark attacks, so I don’t feel sorry for myself….Everybody has to face some difficulties in life. I have met people who are missing both arms. That is an incredible challenge! I have a neighbor who is quadriplegic, and he runs his own business. A bitter heart is more of a handicap than any physical setback….God’s Word teaches us to be thankful in every situation in life and to use our challenges to glorify him! So I realize that he has given me this opportunity to help others in their walk with God and to share his good news of salvation.”
Through the platform of a professional sport, Bethany has been able to become a beacon of inspiration and hope – touching a large number of people with her message and overall spirit. Bethany launched her own foundation, Friends of Bethany, which supports shark attack survivors and traumatic amputees by serving to inspire others through her story. Bethany is also involved in numerous other charitable efforts which include: World Vision, Beating the Odds Foundation, Foundation for a Better Life, Women’s Sports Foundation, Walking on Water, and Christian Surfers International. (The last two are organizations of Christian surfers committed to share the Gospel with the surfing community.)
Bethany has been working with World Vision for several years. World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children and families around the world, in an effort to help them reach their full potential. Following the 2004 Asian tsunami, Bethany traveled to Phuket, Thailand, with her church youth group leader. There she realized that she could really make a difference in people’s lives. Filled with a new sense of hope and direction, she returned home with a renewed resolve to conquer her own limitations and set an encouraging example for others. Through Bethany’s partnership with World Vision, she has raised more than $25,000. She focuses particularly on disabled children around the world.
In Ask Bethany, Hamilton offers this advice to anyone facing challenges: “No matter what kind of challenge you face – emotional, physical, or social – the advice is the same: Always ask God for help, guidance, and inspiration! He can open doors that you would never think or dream of! When you make Jesus the first priority in your everyday life, he can help you overcome obstacles and face challenges. Don’t give up. Keep working hard. Sometimes you need to change your focus to other things, something more doable…. With God’s help you can do anything according to his will, so get on your knees and pray. Seek out his great plan for your life, and he will never let you down!”
Hamilton was the inspiration behind Becky Baumgartner’s 2007 documentary, “Heart of a Soul Surfer.” The Special Edition DVD includes a Gospel presentation and has been subtitled in eight foreign languages to serve as a unique ministry tool that appeals not only to youth and surfers, but also to audiences of all ages and interests. This DVD is freely given away at surfing events as well as hospitals, churches, and other charitable organizations. The goal of Bethany’s DVD Giveaway program is to reach people worldwide with the powerful message of Jesus Christ.
The true story of Bethany Hamilton is an encouraging example for anyone facing a debilitating injury or other difficulty in their own life. Read her book Soul Surfer and watch the Soul Surfer movie after its release on April 8, 2011! For more information, visit BethanyHamilton.com, FriendsofBethany.com, and SoulSurferTheMovie.com.