Surfs like a girl

Pro surfer Bethany Hamilton showcases her talent in a new movie

Bethany surfing
Bethany with baby

After feature film Soul Surfer captured her inspiring shark attack survival story in 2011, the real Bethany Hamilton will be hitting the screens this year with Surfs Like a Girl, documenting her journey to the best waves on the planet.

The surfer was in Australia late last year promoting the film.

"I'm super excited, it's coming together amazingly," Hamilton said of the film. "We've been working on it for the last three or four years, and it's a raw, real version of my life story, highlighting my surfing career and all the different obstacles that I've overcome. I think Soul Surfer did an amazing job but I think this will be a very different version and it's actually me."

Hamilton says the documentary "will be a really cool way for people to see a deeper look at my life and the journey I've been through, especially the success I've had as a professional surfer, and as a mum and in life — and doing it all at the same time."

Soul Surfer, starring Anna-Sophia Robb and Helen Hunt, as well as Bethany's 2004 autobiography Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board, tell how the 13-year-old girl who had just lost her arm in a shark attack returned to the water almost immediately and, rather than wallow in her suffering, took charge of her situation.

Two years after her attack Bethany went on to win the NSSA National Competition in both the US and Australia and has not stopped competing since, with immense success.

It was Halloween 2003 when a young Bethany went surfing with her brother, best friend, and best friend's father in Kauai. She was lying on her board with her left arm dangling in the water when a 4.3-metre shark took her just below the shoulder.

"I had no warning at all; not even the slightest bit of danger on the horizon," she recounts in her book.

"That's all it took: a split second. I felt a lot of pressure and couple of lightning-fast tugs. I couldn't make out any of the details, but I knew that the huge jaws of a fifteen-foot tiger shark covered the top of my board and my left arm.

"Then I watched in shock as the water around me turned bright red."

Bethany’s resilience and maturity ... is truly remarkable and inspiringBy the time she arrived in hospital she had lost 60 per cent of her blood. A month later she was back on her board.

Initially she used a custom-made board, longer and thicker than standard and with a handle for her right arm, making it easier to paddle. She learned to kick more to make up for the loss of her left arm.

She entered her first major competition in January 2004. She now uses standard competitive performance short-boards.

After her performance in the Fiji Women's Pro competition last year, for which Bethany won third place, surfing legend Kelly Slater told The Gospel Herald the hardships Bethany has to overcome to perform at the level she does was "arguably unparalleled" in men's or women's sport.

"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," he said.

"I'm scared to do it myself and ridiculously impressed with her talents."

Bethany and family
Bethany’s resilience and maturity ... is truly remarkable and inspiring

Perhaps more than her talent, it is Bethany's resilience and maturity in responding to such a traumatic and life-altering event that is truly remarkable and inspiring.

As a 14-year-old, Bethany wrote: "I often dream that I have both my arms again, and I wake up expecting the whole shark business to be a nightmare. But it's not. It's my reality now, and I've learned to accept it. I've moved on."

This was only a year after the attack. She goes on to explain where she found the strength and hope to persevere through her pain.

"I don't pretend to have all the answers to why bad things happen to good people," she writes.

"But I do know that God has all those answers, and sometimes He lets you know in this life, and sometimes He asks you to wait so that you can have a face-to-face talk about it.

"What I do know is that I want to use what happened to me as an opportunity to tell people that God is worthy of our trust, and to show them that you can go on and do wonderful things in spite of terrible events that happen.

"I don't think it does any good to sit around and feel sorry for yourself. I made myself a promise: I'm not going to wallow or walk around moaning, 'Woe is me!'"

Today, Bethany says the fact she surfs with one arm is irrelevant and continues to credit God for her strength and wisdom in dealing with life's trials.

"As a Christian, I really cling tight to the promises that God has for my life," she tells The Gospel Herald. "They remain steady and true, aren't going to waiver or change and are there for us to rely on. He grows us in our faith as we go through hard times."

Bethany is married to youth minister Adam Dirks and gave birth to son Tobias in 2015. She continues to train as a surfer but is also focusing on being a mother.

Surfs like a girl will be released in theatres this Winter.
Bethany Hamilton's autobiography is available on Amazon.

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