Bethany Hamilton always dreamed of becoming a professional surfer. At just eight years old she won her first-ever surfing championship and looked to be well on her way to achieving her goal. But after being attacked by a tiger shark at just age 13 it looked like those dreams were gone. Against all odds, she not only returned to surfing, but she was also able to live out her dream at the highest level and prove she is one of the best in her sport.
The attack happened on Oct. 31, 2003 off the coast of Tunnels Beach Kauai, Hawaii where Hamilton and her friend, fellow surfer Alana Blanchard, went out for a morning surf. While lying on her surfboard belly-down, out of nowhere she was attacked by a 14-foot-long tiger shark that most likely mistook her for a seal and bit off her left arm from just under her shoulder.
Thankfully Blanchard, along with her brother and father, were right there and were able to paddle Hamilton back to shore where Alana’s father put on a tourniquet, stopping the blood flow and ultimately saving Bethany’s life. She was then rushed to Wilcox Memorial Hospital where by that point she had lost over 60% of the blood in her body and was in hypovolemic shock, but she pulled through and survived the horrific attack.
Even after going through this traumatic attack Hamilton never gave up on her dream of becoming a professional surfer, but it was not going to be easy. After legs, arms are the most important thing a surfer has when it comes to surfing as they help you balance and paddle out to the waves.
Incredibly, just 26 days after the attack happened Hamilton was back on the board surfing once more. Even more amazingly, on Jan. 26, 2004, just under three months after her attack, she entered her first major competition. Just one year after the accident she won the Explorers Woman Division in the NSSA National Championship in both the United States and Australia. Two years later she officially fulfilled her dream by joining the professional ranks in 2007, winning her first professional title in the T & C Pipeline Women’s Pro that same year.
Having just one arm, Hamilton got around her disability by paddling with one arm faster than most people can with two. To get on the board she usually does late drops when riding the waves and she is able to push herself up by putting her hand in the middle of the board and pushing up to stand. At first, when she started surfing again she used a longer and thicker board with a handle for her right arm, but it did not take long before she was back to using a regular surfboard.
After joining the professional ranks at just 18 years old she achieved the 13th position in the Reef Hawaiian Pro held on Oahu. Hamilton did not stop in her rise as a top surfer and in 2014 she won the Surf ‘n’ Sea Pipeline Women’s Pro in the United States. To this day, she continues to compete professionally, with her last competition happening on Feb. 2, 2022 in the Billabong Pro Pipeline where she finished in ninth place.
In 2004 after her comeback she won The Best Comeback Athlete ESPY Award. Along with her impressive surfing career she also wrote books, her first in 2004 called “Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board,” which was later turned into the film “Soul Surfer.”
Bethany Hamilton’s story is not just a story about a one-armed surfer defying the odds. It is so much more than that. Her story is proof of why nothing is impossible: if you put in the effort to succeed you can do anything.
“Life is a lot like surfing… When you get caught in the impact zone, you’ve got to just get back up. Because you never know what may be over the next wave,” Hamilton said.