The Soul Surfer’s Early Years
Bethany Hamilton was born on February 8, 1990, in Lihue, Hawaii. She grew up on the [Hawaiian] island of Kauai with her parents, Thomas and Cherilyn Hamilton, and her two brothers, Noah and Timothy. Naturally, she and her siblings developed fondness for all sorts of outdoor sports and water activities.
She began surfing at only four years old, and was already entering [and winning] surfing competitions by age eight. In 1998, she earned first place in both the long-board and short-board competitions at the Rell Sun Menehune Surfing Completion. She won the NSSA Open Women’s Division Championship only four years later.
Bethany had been out for a morning surf on the North Shore with her friend, Alana, on October 31, 2003. The two were accompanied by Alana’s brother and father. While lying on her board to rest, with her left arm dangling in the water, a 14-foot tiger shark came up beneath the surface and attacked her, severing her left arm below her shoulder and also taking a bite out of her surfboard. In hypovolaemic shock and losing a great deal of blood, Alana’s father created and applied a tourniquet from a surfboard leg rope and rushed her to the Wilcox Memorial Hospital.
After making it through a number of surgeries in the following days, Bethany began an optimistic and infection-free recovery. Doctors and lifeguards agree that the combination of Bethany’s optimism, as well as her water skills, contributed significantly to both her survival and recovery.
Back TO Surfing
“You fall off the horse and you get back on,” Bethany said. “My passion for surfing was more than my fear of sharks.”
Bethany returned to competitive surfing only weeks after the attack, and even placed fifth in the Open Women’s Division. Initially, Bethany’s board was slightly longer and thicker to improve her stance, balance and paddling ability; she is now back to using a standard competition short board.
“The Soul Surfer” is Published
With the help of MTV, Bethany published her autobiography, entitled “Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board,” in late 2004. The book was later adapted to both a short film and a Hollywood motion picture. The year 2004 was busy for Bethany; in addition to her book, she was the recipient of multiple awards, most notably the “Woman of the Year” award from Gorbachev in Germany She was also the Olympic Torch Honoree at Hawaii’s first-ever triathlon event.
The year 2005 was no less exciting than the year before; after twelve months passed since losing her left arm, Bethany won her first national title at the NSSA National Championships. She won first prize as well as the Under-18 Championship in the competition’s Explorer Division. She was also awarded the Honolulu Citizens Award, USA Today’s “Free Spirit Award,” and the Mildred “Bob” Didrikson Zacharias Courage Award from the United States Sports Academy.
In 2006, she was named the honorary “Woman of the Year” by King Fahd of Saudi Arabia. She also earned 5th Place at the NSSA National Championship, earning a spot on the ISA Hawaii team.
Featured in Heart of a Soul Surfer: Bethany’s Documentary
By 2007, Bethany had certainly established a prosperous career as a professional surfer, and she earned 4th place at the Women’s Pipeline Championships. It was also the year in which her book was made into a short film, “Heart of a Soul Surfer,” described as a faith-based documentary that highlights her courage and faith in Jesus in the events following the attack.
She continued to travel the world in 2008, entering competitions in Australia where she placed 3rd in the Roxy Pro, and 9th place in Rio.
She travelled to South America in 2009, placing 3rd in Brazil and 14th in the ASP World Surfing Ranking, followed by placing 2nd in the ASP Junior World Championships. She was also a contestant in the television show “Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?”, earning $25,000 in prize money.
By 2010, Bethany’s profile had grown considerably, and she began making occasional celebrity appearances, including on an episode of ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.
With the making of “Soul Surfer” into a motion picture, however, the year 2011 quickly launched Bethany to a status she had never seen before. The film, starring Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt, was shown in over 2,000 cinemas and grossed over $45 million. It went on to win numerous awards, including the “Life of a Maverick” award at the Cinequest Film Festival. The book [of the same title] which inspired the movie went on to become a New York Best bestseller; it won many awards, most notably an Artios Award in Casting Independent Features. It was also nominated for Teen Choice Movie Drama, ESPY’s Best Movie, and the Satellite Award for Best Music Score.
More Books and Videos
Bethany has also written a number of other books, including “Devotions of the Soul Surfer,” “Rise Above,” “A Soul Surfer Bible,” “Clash,” “Burned,” “Storm,” and “Crunch.” She also created a video, entitled “I am Second,” with a popular Christian organization, and later spoke in front of over 25,000 people in Dallas, Texas.
Naturally, she has appeared on a number of television/talk shows to discuss her story and spread her message, including inspirational talks to The Biggest Loser contestants and interviews with 20/20, Good Morning America, Inside Edition, Ellen, The Today Show, Tonight Show, and a number of nationally-distributed magazines.
Bethany’s foundation, named “Friends of Bethany,” is dedicated to the support of shark attack survivors and traumatized amputees worldwide. Other charities with which she is involved include World Vision, Walking on Water, Beating the Odds, Christian Surfers, The Foundation for a Better Life and the Women’s Sports Foundation.
There is much more history to be written about this extraordinary, inspiring woman, and we look forward to sharing future stories of overcoming adversity with you.
The Soul Surfer Plans to Get Married
Boyfriend Adam Dirks officially proposed to 23-year-old Bethany on April 9, 2013, which she ecstatically accepted. She wrote of when they first met, a sort of blind date in which the first thing they did was jump off a cliff together. "You could say it was love at first cliff jump,” she wrote. "I'm so thankful for and look forward to living life together...Adam, I love you and I'm here to stay!" They married in Kauai, Hawaii, on August 18, 2013.
An Inspiring Video
Watch this video and be inspired by Bethany's incredible story and far-reaching inspiration.
Achievements and Awards
- 2002: Champion of NSSA Open Women's Division
- 2003: 2nd Place at the NSSA National Championships, only twenty-six days after the shark bite - Named finalist of Belief.net’s “Most Inspiring Person of the Year” award.
- 2004: Awarded Woman of the Year from Gorbachev in Germany - Olympic Torch Honouree at Hawaii’s first triathlon – ESPY’S “Comeback Athlete of the Year” award - Courage Award by FOX Teen Choice Awards - Received Gene Autry Award for Courage and Inspiration Values - First Pitch Honoree for Oakland A’s - Woman of the Sea Award by SIMA Waterman - Under-18 Finalist & NSSA Regional Event: 5th place – Published her book, “Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board”
- 2005: NSSA Champion - O’Neil Island Girl Junior Pro Tournament Champion - Awarded Honolulu Citizens Award – USA Today’s “Free Spirit” Award - Received the Mildred “Bob” Didrikson Zacharias Courage Award from the United States Sports Academy - First Pitch Honouree for the New York Yankees
- 2006: Awarded Woman of the Year from King Fahd of Saudi Arabia - 5th Place at NSSA National Championship. Member of ISA Hawaii team.
- 2007: 4th Place at Women’s Pipeline Championships, 5th Place at NSSA Regionals – 13th Place at Reef Hawaiian Pro – 13th Place at Honda/O’Neill US Open of Surfing
- 2008: 14th Place in ASP’s World Qualifying/Star Series Rankings – 3rd Place at Roxy Pro Surf Festival – 5th Place at US Open of Surfing – 9th Place at Rio de Janeiro International
- 2009: 14th Place in ASP’s World Qualifying/Star Series Rankings – 3rd Place at Rio Surf International – 2nd Place at Billabong ASP World Junior Championship
- 2010: 20th Place in ASP Women’s Tour.
- 2011: Awarded “Life of a Maverick” award at the Cinequest Film Festival – “Soul Surfer” Became New York Times #1 Bestseller – Nomination for VH1's Do Something Awards – Nominated for Teen Choice Movie Drama, ESPY’s Best Movie, and Satellite Award for Best Music Score - Awarded ICM, Faith, Family & Country Award and Artios Award in Casting Independent Features
- 2012: Received the ASP Peter Whittaker Award