Soul Surfer Bethany Hamilton: Inspiring People, Books, and Films
Faith, Hope, Determination
World class athlete. Role model. Inspiration. Soul surfer.
People use these words to describe Bethany Meilani Hamilton, a professional surfer who lost her arm in a shark attack when she was just 13 years old.
Hamilton's story of faith, hope, and determination has inspired people around the world. It was the basis for a bestselling book, a documentary film, and a major motion picture called Soul Surfer, starring AnnaSophia Robb as Hamilton.
Born into a family of swimmers and surfers from Kauai, Hawaii, Hamilton started surfing at a young age. A first place finish in a statewide contest ignited her passion for the sport's competitive nature. The surfing world soon recognized Hamilton as a rising star with a good shot at a professional career.
Attack From the Blue
But something unexpected happened on Halloween morning in 2003. Something completely out of the blue. And it changed Bethany Hamilton's life forever.
While surfing off Kauai's North Shore, the teenage surfer girl met a 15-foot tiger shark. The attack took a huge chunk out of her red, white, and blue surfboard. Tragically, it also severed her left arm at the shoulder.
As Hamilton recalls, everything happened "in a split second." She remembers the pressure, the lightning-speed tugs on her arm, and her shock as the water turned bright red around her.
She remembers the ambulance ride and the paramedic who whispered in her ear, "God will never leave you or forsake you." Today, she knows just how right he was.
Hamilton says Jesus gave her peace during the shark attack, and strength as she fought to recover from the ordeal. "The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus," she often says, quoting Philippians 4:6-8.
Back on the Board
Despite a 60 percent blood loss and numerous surgeries, Bethany Hamilton survived the shark attack with remarkable strength and courage. The lifeguards and doctors credit her strong water sense and unwavering faith in God.
Amazingly, Hamilton was back in the water within weeks of the attack. She returned to competitive surfing in January 2004. Not only did she survive the loss of her arm, but she actually seemed to thrive without it. Hamilton continued to enter surfing contests and excel in her sport, winning her first national title in 2005.
Two years later, Hamilton realized her dream of turning pro. She now travels across the globe as a world class surfer. Her professional endeavors have taken her from Hawaii to Europe, South America, South Africa, Australia, Indonesia, Fiji, and Tahiti.
Hamilton shared her story in her 2004 autobiography Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to get Back on the Board. Co-authored with Rick Bundschuh and Sheryl Berk, the book soon became a national bestseller. Since then, Hamilton has written other inspirational books, including a Christian devotional for young adults.
Her story inspired the award winning 2007 documentary Heart of a Soul Surfer: The Bethany Hamilton Movie. It also created a wave of inspiration for the 2011 feature movie Soul Surfer, starring AnnaSophia Robb, Helen Hunt, Dennis Quaid and Carrie Underwood.
In 2009, Hamilton launched the Friends of Bethany Hamilton foundation to support shark attack victims and trauma amputees. Her non-profit organization shares the hope and love of Jesus Christ through the stories of Hamilton and others like her.
Hamilton on Faith
"Let all that I am praise the Lord; may I never forget the good things He does for me." (Psalm 103:2).
These words grace the pages of Bethany Hamilton's official website. The surfer is outspoken about her spiritual beliefs. Asked about what her faith means to her life, her one word answer is "Everything!"
Many people do not think about their faith until they are older or tragedy strikes. Hamilton was about five years old when she made the decision to believe in Jesus. She acknowledges God as her source of truth, hope, and strength.
Hamilton and her brothers grew up in a Christian home with parents who read Bible stories to their children and taught them about the Lord. But she is quick to explain that a relationship with God is personal, and that a Christian family does not automatically make a Christian child. Each person must make his or her own decision to follow Christ.
Are you interested in knowing Jesus the way that Bethany Hamilton knows him? The young surfer shares how you can have a personal relationship with Christ in Connecting with God.
Heart of a Soul Surfer
Heart of a Soul Surfer is an award-winning documentary with an inside perspective on the Bethany Hamilton story.
The short film features exclusive home movies and surf footage taken before and after the shark attack.
It chronicles the surfer's comeback and her quest to discover her purpose in life. Digging deep into her Christian faith, it asks hard questions like, "Why does God allow bad things to happen to us?"
Becky Baumgarten directed Heart of a Soul Surfer for Walking on Water Films. It was an official selection at more than 25 film festivals around the world, and it won three awards in 2007.
A Big Screen Wave
When you come back from a loss, beat the odds and never say never, you find a champion.
That's the tagline. Jeremiah 29:11 is the theme: "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
Bethany Hamilton's real-life story was the inspiration for Soul Surfer, a TriStar Pictures film that premiered in April 2011. Directed by Sean McNamara, the drama stars AnnaSophia Robb (Because of Winn-Dixie, Bridge to Terabithia) as Hamilton.
Oscar winner Helen Hunt plays the role of Cherilyn Hamilton, the surfer girl's mother. Dennis Quaid portrays her father, Thomas Hamilton. Ross Thomas and Chris Brochu star as her older brothers, Noah and Timmy.
Carrie Underwood, the American Idol winner who became a country music superstar, made her acting debut in Soul Surfer. Underwood portrays Sarah Hill, a youth leader in Hamilton's church.
Soul Surfer is rated PG for thematic elements including an intense accident sequence. The shark attack scenes may be too scary for young children, but parents can reassure them ahead of time by explaining that Hamilton survives the attack.
Soul Surfer Series
The Soul Surfer series is a collection of four novels based on the life of Bethany Hamilton. They are classified as Christian or inspirational fiction for young adults.
In each story, Hamilton and her friends discover God's love as they ride the waves of life. The stories depict various exciting adventures, and the girls learn valuable lessons along the way.
Hamilton wrote the Soul Surfer series with Rick Bundschuh, who pastors Kauai Christian Fellowship in Koloa, Hawaii. Zonderkidz, a division of Zondervan, is the series publisher.
Book 3 / Format: Paperback. Bethany helps a family lost on the Kalalun trail, and a small act of kindness blesses her youth group as they struggle to raise funds for a mission trip.
Book 1 / Format: Paperback. When a new girl crowds Bethany's tight-knit group of friends, heart issues lead to hard decisions.
Soul Surfer Bethany Hamilton Says "I am Second"
When something happens to take away your passion and purpose, what do you do? Bethany Hamilton turned to her faith. Her relationship with Jesus gave her comfort, renewed her spirit, and restored her surfing ability to amazing new heights.
Trusting God after the shark attack kept Hamilton alive. She shares her story in books, films, and this video for the I am Second evangelistic ministry. Hamilton encourages others not to give up on themselves or the Lord.
How has Bethany Hamilton or Soul Surfer impacted your life? Leave a comment below and tell us about it. If you enjoyed this article, please share it with your social networks.
- Discovery Channel. (2011) "Discovery Channel Shark Week: Tiger Shark." Discovery Communications. Retrieved April 8, 2011.
- Friends of Bethany Hamilton. (n.d.) "About Friends of Bethany." Friends of Bethany Hamilton. Retrieved April 8, 2011.
- Hamilton, Bethany. (n.d.) "Bethany Hamilton: Biography." Bethany Hamilton Official Website. Retrieved April 8, 2011.
- Heart of a Soul Surfer. (n.d.) "The Story of Bethany Hamilton." Heart of a Soul Surfer. Retrieved April 8, 2011.
- Sony Pictures. (2011) Soul Surfer: the Movie. Retrieved April 8, 2011.
© 2011 Annette R. Smith Last updated on December 8, 2013
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