Bethany Hamilton will never forget Halloween 2003. The avid surfer, who had been competing professionally, went out for a morning training session in her native Hawaii and while paddling, was attacked by a 14-foot tiger shark. It took her left arm at the shoulder and swam off. The harrowing incident is re-created in the new movie Soul Surfer, which is based on her 2004 book of the same name. You can see how Bethany not only survived, but thrived, getting back to the sport she loved on Thanksgiving Day, still bandaged.
Soon she was back competing, with a specially designed board. Bethany is proud of the movie. “Making it was a lot of hard work,’’ she said from the Loews Miami Beach Hotel last month. “There was a lot of internal pressure, but it was a huge learning process.’’ Bethany did more than inspire the film; she had a consultant role; did all the one-armed stunts; and suggested the actress who played her, AnnaSophia Robb (with a CGI’ed shoulder). “Me and my mom had seen her in Willy Wonka and The Bridge to Terabithia so we kind of cast her, which is cool,’’ she says. “I’m happy she was me.’’ Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt play her mom and dad; Carrie Underwood, in her first role, plays a youth minister. “We were blessed with an amazing cast, which enhanced the movie tenfold,’’ says the 21-year-old who still calls Hawaii home.
In most ways, Bethany is your typical surfer girl – blond, tan, toned, smiley. She doesn’t seem self-conscious in the least, wearing sleeveless shirts, showing off her devastating scar like a badge of honor. The only ongoing issue has been with balance. Posture alignment is key, says Bethany, who does TRX, a portable bodyweight training tool that helps even her out. She credits her family and faith with her “normalcy’’ and wants Soul Surfer to be the Blue Crush of her generation. “You really can see the beauty of surfing – girls ripping very hard,’’ says Bethany. “It’s very intimate. You get inside the barrel, which most people never get to witness.’’
Though she’s not currently surfing competitively, she manages to hit the ocean two to eight hours a day. “It depends on the waves.’’