Bethany Hamilton: The Real Life Soul Surfer

Shark attack survivor Bethany Hamilton’s story inspires the big screen movie Soul Surfer starring AnnaSophia Robb, Helen Hunt and Dennis Quaid.

Bethany Hamilton made headlines in 2003 when she was attacked by a tiger shark while surfing in her hometown of Kauai, Hawaii. Although the shark had bitten off most of Hamilton’s left arm, causing her to lose 60 per cent of her blood, she survived. Unwilling to give up on the sport, she taught herself to surf with one arm in the hope of returning to competitive surfing. Her story quickly became an inspiration to many.

Bethany was born on February 8, 1990 in Kauai, Hawaii. Living with her parents, Tom and Cheri, Bethany was taught to surf at a young age along with her brothers, Noah and Timmy. As her surfing abilities progressed rapidly, Bethany began to compete. At the age of eight, she came first place in a Quicksilver surfing contest and began to enter and win major surf competitions throughout Hawaii. With many first place wins under her belt, Bethany knew she wanted to go pro and make the sport her career. She picked up a sponsor, Rip Curl, which helped her with her professional plans.

Her plans on turning pro were soon put to a halt on the morning of October 31, 2003 while out o surfing. In the ocean at Tunnels Beach—along with her friend Alana Blanchard and Blanchard’s dad and brother—13-year-old Bethany was relaxing on her board laying sideways with her left arm dangling in the water as she waited for the next wave to roll in. Her friends were floating nearby. Suddenly, there was a flash of gray. Bethany described the incident as merely feeling a couple of fast tugs, that were over in a few seconds. A few seconds was all it took for the 15-foot tiger shark to bite off her left arm, nearly to the shoulder. Bethany watched in shock as the water around her turned bright red. Somehow, she managed to stay calm. “It’s funny,” Bethany said, “you would think having your arm bitten off would really hurt. But there was no pain at the time.” Reports say that if the shark had bitten two more inches up her arm, the attack would have been fatal.

Bethany then screamed, “I just got attacked by a shark,” and started paddling toward shore. It was a quarter of a mile back, but one thought kept repeating in her head: “Get to the beach.” Her friends quickly reached her and helped her get to shore. Once they reached the shore, her used a shirt and a surfboard leash to make a tourniquet around what was left of her arm until paramedics came.

On the morning of the shark attack, Bethany’s dad Tom had been scheduled for knee surgery and was already on the operating table when the ambulance brought her in. His surgeon was preparing to start the operation when a nurse burst into the room. She said, “There’s a 13-year-old girl coming, a shark attack victim.” The next day, Bethany, tired and feeling distraught, told her father she would become a surf photographer. But after seven days of recovery in the hospital and her stitches were removed, Bethany had a change of heart.

Less than one month after the attack, Hamilton returned to surfing. The challenge was to teach herself how to surf with one arm, which she did using a longer and thicker custom-made surfboard to help her along.

Since the incident Bethany has returned to competitive surfing. In 2005, she took 1st place in the NSSA National Championships, a goal she had been trying to achieve since before the shark attack. In 2008, she began competing full time in the Association of Surfing Professionals World Qualifying Series (WQS), finishing 3rd amongst many of the world’s best women surfers.

Based on her book Soul Surfer, Bethany’s story has been made into a movie. Playing Bethany is actress AnnaSophia Robb. Filmed on location in Kauai and Oahu, Bethany performs her own stunt surfing in the movie and also contributed to the script and editing process. Helen Hunt and Dennis Quaid play her parents. Soul Surfer in now available on DVD.

Bethany, 20, is still a champion surfer, competing six months of the year around the world.

– By Toni-Marie Ippolito

Share this article:

Comments & Discussion

  1. diehard • March 19, 2011 @ 4:23 PM


  2. cindy • March 20, 2011 @ 2:00 AM

    You are so on my movie list!!!

  3. Germain • March 21, 2011 @ 7:29 AM

    Due to the attention 127 Hours got, this was innevitable.

  4. L1feless • March 21, 2011 @ 9:37 AM

    Good for her.

  5. sandy reeb • April 3, 2011 @ 11:12 AM

    very inspiring!! looking forward to seeing the movie!

  6. Keely Pettigrew • April 4, 2011 @ 6:52 AM

    That was very inspiring. I can’t wait to see the movie. 😀

  7. krissy draper • April 24, 2011 @ 7:10 AM

    Love the book and can’t wait to see the movie with my BFFLPS.

  8. Piggy • April 29, 2011 @ 5:24 PM

    This girl is really kewl! I can’t believe she would keep surfing after a fricken shark bit he arm off! That takes alot of faith, hope, and courage! Wish I was more like her! I’d love to see the movie! 😀

  9. Piggy • April 29, 2011 @ 5:25 PM

    This girl is really kewl! I can’t believe she would keep surfing after a fricken shark bit he arm off! That takes alot of faith, hope, and courage! Wish I was more like her! I’d love to see the movie!! 😀

  10. Ashley • May 2, 2011 @ 7:52 PM

    This movie inspired me soo much and i love you,you made me feel like i need to pickup on everything in stead of just lying back and watch other people do it im sure you werevery scared to get in the water but you did it anyways,anyways I LOVE U and thanks for the inspiration

  11. Linda Marek • May 12, 2011 @ 2:23 PM

    I’ve seen the movie twice. It certainly makes my mountains look like molehills. Thanks Bethany for letting people know that your faith in Jesus helped you overcome your handicap. As you said, you have reached and inspired more people than you ever could have with 2 arms.

  12. Megan • May 30, 2011 @ 8:18 PM

    Oh my goodness Bethany u r soooo brave! I think Jesus helped u through everything:) you are my role model:) I really want to surf now! I think it’s an awsome sport! ! I’m
    Upsessed:) you are the coolest person ever!! And it takes ALOT of bravery and guts to go back out there after what happened! I love you soo much:)

  13. lunbug96 • June 2, 2011 @ 9:38 PM

    I was so moved by the movie, There is no words that even began to explaine how it made me feel. I took my 10 yr old son to see the movie and he cried. That was moving tears from a 10 yr old boy. Both of my boys reced BMX for 7 yrs, we traveled all over different sates about every wk to compete. They were both very moved from the determination you had on life after such a tragedy. God Bless you and good luck on all you do.

  14. sharon • July 7, 2011 @ 11:33 PM

    this story was just to moving it showed that anyone can make there dreamcom true that they can make a different because what i seen whAt i heard was just a TRUE SOUL SUFER and that doesn’t come often 🙂 soo this isa dream wroth belieaving love to dream that will live on forever 🙂 thanks….

  15. gabrielle • July 11, 2011 @ 8:27 PM

    OMG i loved yur story best thing i ever heard it inspired me to take surf lessons. one of my best decisions i ever made. i loved that movie sooooooooo much that i saw it 2 times. i love you and how you had faith and i think you had dreams and then that shark bit you & kept your spirits high

  16. LarryF • July 31, 2011 @ 12:24 PM

    Great inspiration

  17. MaryH • August 2, 2011 @ 7:48 PM

    a great faith-based film, entertaining and wonderfully-acted…. Yes sometimes it’s as simple as that!

  18. connie • August 7, 2011 @ 7:14 AM

    i watch bethany hamilton movie and cry this was the first time i have ever heard of her and i think that she is a wonderful and great woman to have gone thought something like that. and to think i am sitting here feeling sorry for my self thank you bethany hamilton for share your life story with the world you have change my life.

  19. madison • August 9, 2011 @ 10:02 PM

    i love u bethany

  20. jessicaa • November 13, 2011 @ 5:31 PM

    OMG that is amasing LUV U bethany

  21. Kendra • December 3, 2011 @ 8:33 PM

    An incredible heart wrenching story, I cried throughout almost the whole movie. Very touching….. Bethany is an amazing person and plenty to teach others about life.

  22. Samantha • December 17, 2011 @ 10:00 PM

    I feel so bad for her:( I would do the same thing and keep surfing. She’s worked so hard for this.:):):):):):):)

  23. autumn mckim • March 25, 2012 @ 10:55 PM

    love the movie watched it like 1000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 times :):) winky face kidding only watched it like 9 times but still its very inspiring

  24. Tasia • April 21, 2012 @ 11:18 PM

    i love u Bethany!!!!!!!! i feel so sorry for your arm

  25. meghan • January 16, 2013 @ 3:15 PM


  26. meghan • January 29, 2013 @ 3:05 PM

    i trying to write a school thing about her!!!!!!!!:)

Join The Conversation:

Similar Articles

Trending Articles

Current Poll

  • Which returning TV show are you most looking forward to?

    View Results

    Loading ... Loading ...

You Might Also Like

Close Menu