A Surfer with Soul
Bethany Hamilton wants her remarkable story to go to the ends of the earth, but she's not a big fan of interviews. She'd much rather be surfing, or hanging out with friends, and letting others tell her story. She'd certainly rather be anywhere but Chicago in frigid February—especially when home is Kauai, Hawaii—when she dropped by our offices for an interview to promote Soul Surfer, opening in theaters this week.
The 21-year-old Hamilton—who lost her left arm to a shark attack at the age of 13, but through courage, perseverance and a strong faith has nonetheless still become one of the world's greatest professional surfers—was pleasant and polite when we talked about the movie and her inspiring story. But it was obvious that her mind was elsewhere … and who can blame her? How many times can she tell her story? Yes, I was attacked by a shark. Yes, I lost my left arm. Yes, I got back in the water after three weeks. And yes, my family and my Christian faith were a huge part of my recovery and journey. And so on.
But something really cool happened at the end of our interview, when a colleague brought her tween daughter by to meet Hamilton. For the young girl, Hamilton was a hero, a role model, an example of overcoming tremendous odds, and a model Christian to boot. The girl was shy but clearly giddy about meeting Hamilton—and Hamilton was clearly thrilled to meet the girl. They chatted amiably for a few minutes, Bethany gladly gave the girl her autograph, and took a few pictures together. Hamilton was in her element—winsomely relating to another young person, encouraging, exhorting.
Here's a little more we learned about Hamilton during our conversation.
What did you think of the movie?
I thought it turned out really good. The story is true to my family and me. My family and I all took part in making the film from the very beginning till the very end. We had a lot of say in the script and day to day on the set. We're all very proud of it and excited to share it.
What parts did you feel like they got just perfect?
I thought the shark attack was really well done. It's exactly how it really was. It started off a very happy, fun day, perfect weather. And then it happened real quick.
In the movie, when you arrive at the hospital, your dad is going into the operating room for knee surgery at the exact same time. Did it really happen that way?
Yes, my dad was actually getting knee surgery that day. But they had to use that room for me—the same room he was about to start his knee surgery on. And they took him out of the room, and put me in there. When people see that in the movie, they might not believe it, but it's actually a true story, even though it totally sounds like Hollywood drama.
What do you want people to take away from watching this film?
If they're going through a hard time, it would be cool for them to be able to relate to our family and know that there is hope in life, especially if you have Jesus Christ in your life. You can overcome these horrible circumstances and turn it into something good. And I just hope they can just enjoy the surfing, because it's so fun to watch!
A lot of people are already familiar with your story. Is there something the movie brings to the table that maybe hasn't been presented before?
Mainly the surfing. You don't get to see that really in my book [also titled Soul Surfer]. You just see a couple of pictures, but you don't get to see what actually goes down in the water, watching the physical struggle of living with one arm. So the movie is more of a whole pie rather than just a piece of the pie.