Bethany Hamilton – Soul Surfer 

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Bethany Hamilton – Soul Surfer 

What happens if you’re an athlete and an accident takes away one of the most helpful tools you have to succeed? Bethany Hamilton grew up on the North Shore of Kauai. She was born into the surfer lifestyle. Many people in her community surfed and her parents also loved the sport. Her father was a waiter and her mother cleaned rental condos, earning just enough for them to cover the bills and be able to surf in their free time. For the people in Bethany’s community, surfing was a way of life. 

Bethany had been surfing her entire life. By the time she was eight-years-old, she competed in her first competition. When she was nine, she earned her first big sponsor, Rip Curl. Four years later, Bethany placed second place in the NSSA National Championships. She’s now 27, and one of the most well known surfers in the world, partially for her talent, but also for a terrifying accident she survived at just 13. 

On Oct. 31, when the water was glassy and calm, Bethany’s life was changed forever. She was surfing with a family friend, Holt Blanchard, his daughter Alana (Hamilton’s best friend), and his son, Byron at her favorite surfing site, The Tunnels. Bethany was laying on her surfboard a bit further out than the others when suddenly, a 4.2 meter tiger shark swam up beside her and grabbed on to her left arm. “I was laying on my board sideways… and the shark came up and grabbed a hold of my arm,” she told ABC NEWS’ reporter Chris Cuomo. “And then, I was holding onto my board, with my thumb, because I probably didn’t want to get pulled under. It was like pulling me back and forth, not like pulling me underwater… And then it let go. And then went under. Then I looked down at the water, and it was like really red, from all the blood in the water,” she added. 

The shark bit off her entire left arm, just below the shoulder. The attack happened so quickly that no one around her saw the shark or her struggle with it. Eventually, Blanchard saw blood in the water and knew she was attacked. He paddled up to her and saw that her arm was gone. Blanchard knew he needed to act quickly or she would die from loss of blood. He thought to himself, “how am I going to get her [to shore] before she bleeds to death?” They were 200 miles from shore. He used his surfboard leash as a tourniquet and led her to the beach. 

While Bethany ended up losing her entire left arm, she didn’t stay out of the water for long. One month after the attack, she was back out catching waves. When Bethany was in the hospital recovering from her injuries, she realized she didn’t need to give up on her dreams. “I remember lying in the hospital room and was visited by someone who had lost his leg to a shark attack, and he actually had learned how to surf again after losing his leg, so I thought if he can do it with one leg, I can do it with one arm.” 

Within two years of returning to surfing, she won a title. Bethany said she really set her mind on getting back out in the water, which helped her get through the most frustrating parts of her recovery. Luckily, her parents were extremely supportive of her. Her father kept encouraging her and even built her a handle on her surfboard so she could duck dive and push herself under the waves. 

Now, her surfing technique is different than before the attack. Bethany has to paddle twice as hard and kick with her feet because she can’t use her other arm to help balance. She drops (gets up and in) waves later than most surfers because it’s harder for her to create enough power to drip into waves at the same point as her fellow surfers. Bethany’s perseverance and story inspired the film “Soul Surfer.”

Today, Bethany’s life is different than what she imagined as a teenager. She founded the charity Friends of Bethany, which reaches out to amputees and youth and promotes healthy living lifestyle, wrote a book that empowers girls, and travels around the United States as a motivational speaker. When asked about her arm and whether she misses doing anything she now might have trouble doing, she said she’s busier than ever. “I don’t really miss anything. I’ve never had more to do. I’m traveling and meeting influential and impactful people from around the world. The only thing I miss a little is playing the ukulele.”

Bethany Hamilton made the semifinals at a World Surf League event in Fiji, her best result since losing her left arm to a shark attack in 2003.

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