Soul Surfer Bethany Hamilton: Inspirational Christian Athlete

Soul surfer Bethany Hamilton lost her arm in a shark attack when she was 13 years old. Her story of faith, hope, and determination has inspired people around the world.

Bethany Meilani Hamilton.
See all 5 photos
Bethany Meilani Hamilton.
Source: Soul Surfer Website

Faith, Hope, Determination

World class athlete. Role model. Source of inspiration. Soul surfer.

These are some of the words that describe Bethany Hamilton, a young surfer who lost her arm in a shark attack when she was 13 years old.

Hamilton's story of faith, hope, and determination has inspired people around the world. It has inspired a bestselling book, an award winning documentary, and a feature film.

Hamilton was born into a family of swimmers and surfers from Kauai, Hawaii, and she started surfing at a young age. A first place finish in a statewide competition ignited her passion for the sport's competitive nature.

It didn't take long for the surfing world to notice Hamilton. She was a rising star with a good shot at a professional career. Then tragedy struck.

Attack from Out of the Blue

Something happened on the morning of Halloween in 2003 -- something completely out of the blue. And it changed Hamilton's life forever.

While surfing off Kauai's North Shore, the surfer girl met a 15-foot tiger shark. During the attack, it removed a huge chunk of her red, white, and blue surfboard. It also severed her left arm at the shoulder.

As Hamilton recalls, everything happened "in a split second." She remembers feeling the pressure, the lightning-speed tugs on her arm, and her shock as the water turned red around her.

God will never leave you or forsake you.

She also remembers the ambulance ride and the paramedic who whispered in her ear, "God will never leave you or forsake you." That gave her comfort. And 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. Quoting Philippians 4, she explains: "The peace of God ... will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

Bethany Hamilton is back on her surf board.
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Bethany Hamilton is back on her surf board.
Source: Heart of a Soul Surfer (Press Kit)

Getting Back on the Board

Despite losing a large amount of blood in the attack, Hamilton survived with courage and strength. The lifeguards and doctors credit her strong water sense and unwavering faith in God.

Hamilton was back in the water within weeks of the attack, and she returned to competitive surfing in early 2004. Not only did she survive the loss of her arm, but she seemed to thrive without it.

Hamilton continued to enter contests and excel in her sport, winning her first national title in 2005. Two years later, she realized her dream of turning pro.

Now she travels across the globe as a world class surfer. She's competed in Europe, South America, South Africa, Australia, Indonesia, Fiji, Tahiti, and other parts of the world.

Hamilton shared her story in 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 became a national bestseller. Hamilton also penned several inspirational books, including a Christian devotional for young adults.

Her story inspired the award winning documentary Heart of a Soul Surfer: The Bethany Hamilton Movie. Next came Soul Surfer, a feature film starring AnnaSophia Robb, Helen Hunt, Dennis Quaid, and Carrie Underwood.

Hamilton's foundation, Friends of Bethany Hamilton, supports shark attack victims and trauma amputees. It shares the hope and love of Jesus Christ through the stories of Hamilton and others like her.

What Faith Means to Bethany Hamilton

"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 website. The surfer is outspoken about her beliefs. When asked what her faith means to her, she gives a one word answer: "Everything!"

Let all that I am praise the Lord; may I never forget the good things He does for me.

Many people don't think about their faith until they're older or tragedy strikes. Hamilton was about five years old when she made the decision to trust Jesus as her Savior. She acknowledges God as her source of truth, hope, and strength.

Hamilton grew up in a Christian home with parents who read Bible stories and taught their children about God. But she understands that a relationship with God is personal -- Christian parents don't make a Christian child. Each person must make their own decision to follow Christ.

Are you interested in knowing Jesus the way Bethany Hamilton knows him? The young surfer explains how you can have a personal relationship with Christ in Connect with God.

Jesus Christ lives in the heart of the Hamilton family.
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Jesus Christ lives in the heart of the Hamilton family.
Source: Soul Surfer, the Movie (Press Kit)

Heart of a Soul Surfer

Heart of a Soul Surfer is an award winning documentary that provides an inside perspective on the Bethany Hamilton story. This short film features exclusive home movie footage taken before and after the shark attack.

It chronicles Hamilton'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 let bad things happen to us?"

Becky Baumgarten directed the documentary 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.

Making Waves on the Big Screen

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."

For I know the plans I have for you ... plans to give you hope and a future.

Hamilton's story inspired Soul Surfer: The Movie, a feature film that premiered in April 2011. The drama stars AnnaSophia Robb (Because of Winn-Dixie, Bridge to Terabithia) as Hamilton.

Helen Hunt plays Cherilyn Hamilton, the surfer girl's mother, and Dennis Quaid portrays her father, Thomas Hamilton. Ross Thomas and Chris Brochu star as her older brothers, Noah and Timmy.

Carrie Underwood, the country music star, made her acting debut in the film. She portrays Sarah Hill, a youth leader in Hamilton's church.

Soul Surfer has a PG rating for thematic elements including an intense accident sequence. While the shark attack is a scary scene for children, parents can reassure them that Hamilton survives the attack.

Bethany Hamilton and AnnaSophia Robb on the set of Soul Surfer.
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Bethany Hamilton and AnnaSophia Robb on the set of Soul Surfer.
Source: Soul Surfer, the Movie (Press Kit)

Soul Surfer Books for Young Readers

The Soul Surfer Series is a collection of four novels based on the life of Bethany Hamilton. They are inspirational works of fiction for young adult readers.

The books follow Hamilton and her friends as they discover God's love and ride the waves of life. The stories depict exciting adventures, and the girls learn valuable lessons along the way.

Hamilton wrote the books with pastor Rick Bundschuh of Kauai Christian Fellowship. Zonderkidz, a division of Zondervan, published the series.

Clash: A Novel (Soul Surfer Series)
Clash: A Novel (Soul Surfer Series)

Book 1 / When a new girl crowds Bethany's tight-knit group of friends, heart issues lead to hard decisions.

 
Burned: A Novel (Soul Surfer Series)
Burned: A Novel (Soul Surfer Series)

Book 2 / After encountering an unpleasant kid during a surf trip to Samoa, Bethany learns something about forgiveness and healing

 
Storm: A Novel (Soul Surfer Series)
Storm: A Novel (Soul Surfer Series)

Book 3 / 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.

 
Crunch: A Novel (Soul Surfer Series)
Crunch: A Novel (Soul Surfer Series)

Book 4 / When Bethany makes a promise to a Mexican child in need of an arm amputation, an important surf opportunity is threatened.

 

Bethany Hamilton: I am Second

When something happens to take away your passion and purpose, what do you do? Soul Surfer Bethany Hamilton turns to her faith.

Trusting God kept Hamilton alive after the shark attack. Her relationship with Jesus Christ gave her comfort and renewed her spirit. It restored her surfing abilities to new heights.

In addition to her books and films, Hamilton shares her story in the I am Second video series. Putting Jesus first in her life, she encourages viewers not to give up on themselves or the Lord.

Bethany Hamilton Marries Adam Dirks

Bethany Hamilton married Adam Dirks in August 2013. The couple tied the knot on Kauai's North Shore, near the town where Hamilton grew up. Three hundred guests attended the hilltop wedding.

"I look forward to being the best wife that I can be for Adam and to starting our new adventure together," she told People magazine. Dirks is a Christian youth minister, and the couple met through friends at Hamilton's church.

Your Turn: Speak Your Mind

How has Bethany Hamilton's story impacted your life? Leave a comment below and tell us about it. If you liked this article, please share it and spread the word.

Reference Sources

A tiger shark (like the one that attacked Bethany Hamilton) in Bahamian waters.
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A tiger shark (like the one that attacked Bethany Hamilton) in Bahamian waters.

© 2011 Annette R. Smith Last updated on December 2, 2014

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Comments 26 comments

Docmo profile image

Docmo 3 years ago from UK Level 1 Commenter

what courage and determination! this is an absolutely inspiring, positive tale anyone should read. Well done!


Annette R. Smith profile image

Annette R. Smith 3 years ago from Orlando, Florida Hub Author

Hello, Docmo. Thanks so much for your comment! Bethany Hamilton is an amazing young woman, and a true inspiration.


Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 3 years ago from San Francisco

Bethany Hamilton's story is so inspiring- and she's such a cool person, too! Great Hub!


Annette R. Smith profile image

Annette R. Smith 3 years ago from Orlando, Florida Hub Author

Thank you, Simone!


Karen Mays 3 years ago

This article is not only informative, but very inspirational. Now, I can't wait to see the movie!


Annette R. Smith profile image

Annette R. Smith 3 years ago from Orlando, Florida Hub Author

Hi, Karen. Thank you for reading my hub...and for the encouragement. God bless you!


Hyphenbird profile image

Hyphenbird 3 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

I very seldom go to the theater however this movie is on my To See list. This young woman is brave and strong. We need more people faithful enough to speak up for the One who saved us, in so many ways. And I love that paramedic who whispered God's plan of Grace to Bathany in her time of fear. He is a hero also.


Annette R. Smith profile image

Annette R. Smith 3 years ago from Orlando, Florida Hub Author

Amen! Bethany Hamilton is such an inspiration. And I thought the same thing about the paramedic, too. He truly is a hero, Hyphenbird.


nybride710 profile image

nybride710 3 years ago from USA

Hi Annette, this is a wonderful article about a wonderful person and movie. I saw it with my daughters (11 and 14) and their youth group and left knowing that I would write an article about it. I was deeply moved and I can see that you were, too.


Annette R. Smith profile image

Annette R. Smith 3 years ago from Orlando, Florida Hub Author

Hi, Lisa! I remember when Hamilton's autobiography was published. I was a librarian at the time, and thrilled to display the inspirational book on the library's "New Books" shelf. I'm glad they're now telling her story in a major motion picture.

Thanks for reading my hub, and for letting me share a link to your article, "You Don't Have To Lose An Arm To Inspire People For Christ." It's a wonderful, thought-provoking piece.


daffy 3 years ago

Brave and beautiful child of God!


Annette R. Smith profile image

Annette R. Smith 3 years ago from Orlando, Florida Hub Author

Hi, Daffy! Thanks for reading!


sam 3 years ago

bethany your so awsome and i hope you live a better life god bless you i hope your ok and i hope you can always surf ive seen the way you do and i hope it lasts as your dream


Annette R. Smith profile image

Annette R. Smith 3 years ago from Orlando, Florida Hub Author

Sam, thank you for reading this hub and leaving a comment. Bethany Hamilton is such a remarkable young woman. May the Lord richly bless her and her family.


larry 2 years ago

hi i just want to say i seen the movie in theater and it didnt really hit me tell i got the dvd and watch it again kinda brought a tea to my eye knowing that this beautiful amazing woman who had so much done to her and still went out there looking for the next wave i had to go out and buy the book after i seen the movie she inspired a lot of ppl and is an insperation to a lot of ppl wish u the best in everything u do bethany dont ever stop doing what u love to do take care and God Bless...Larry


Annette R. Smith profile image

Annette R. Smith 2 years ago from Orlando, Florida Hub Author

Hi, Larry. Bethany Hamilton is an amazing woman with an awesome story. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your personal thoughts and insights. God bless you!


jane m jojo 2 years ago

you know i loved the movie but bethany is a inspering young woman


Annette R. Smith profile image

Annette R. Smith 2 years ago from Orlando, Florida Hub Author

She certainly is. Thank you, Jane, for reading my article and leaving a comment!


KaLeigH 2 years ago

I love The movie soul surfer. Bethany is Vary brave


Annette R. Smith profile image

Annette R. Smith 2 years ago from Orlando, Florida Hub Author

Yes, she is. Thank you for stopping by, KaLeigH. I appreciate your comment!


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