In October 2003, thirteen-year-old Bethany Hamilton was riding the waves on Kauai’s North Shore in Hawaii, as she did most mornings.
An amateur surfing champion ranked among the top five in the world, Ms Hamilton was paddling with her best friend when a 15-foot tiger shark suddenly loomed in the water. Before she knew what was happening, the shark had bitten off most of her left arm just below the shoulder.
This would be enough to prevent most people from ever entering the water again. But Ms Hamilton’s unwavering personal faith and the love and support of her family enabled a complete recovery. God had big plans for Bethany Hamilton and she was back on her surfboard a month later, competing in the sport she loves.
Book and movie deals followed and the young woman who has always insisted on getting no special treatment from competitors has become a role model for millions.
What did you think of the final film?
I am really happy with the way it turned out. My family and I worked really hard to keep it as true and authentic as it could be. It’s a great feeling to be happy with the finished film and to see how it’s making an impact in other people’s lives.
Actress AnnaSophia Robb (pictured top with Bethany) played you in the film. How important was it that you find someone with similar values to portray you in the film?
As we were searching for someone, I really wanted someone with good morals in life. Particularly because young girls who see the film will look up to that actress and really admire her. We found AnnaSophia, and in getting to know her I was just so blessed and excited and thankful for who she is and what she bought to the part.
I like the fact that the film makers didn’t shy away from portraying your Christian faith, particularly the youth group scenes and those at church. Is this something you had to fight to keep in the film?
I definitely had to be firm with what we had to keep in the film, but at the same time I was really blessed with the director Sean McNamara. He really wanted to keep the story true and get our insight (the Hamilton family) on how we wanted to see it all put into place, so it ended up working really well. My faith is an important part of who I am. It was a relief to see the finished film.
At the time when you seemed to be struggling with God’s plan for you after the shark attack you went on a Phuket mission trip following the tsunami (the following year). Did this serve as a concrete way of giving you perspective on your own situation?
My trip to Thailand (in 2004) was incredible in that I was able to go and share my story and help this particular Thai village overcome their fears of the ocean after the tsunami. It was an amazing trip and I’ve always had a passion for sharing God’s love. I’ve been to Tijuana Mexico a couple of times with my youth group and Thailand especially was really awesome.
What message do you want people to take away from the film?
If people are going through a rough time, I would hope the film serves as an example of being able to push through the rough times and know that good can come out of it. For my family and me it’s about trusting God and knowing He is in control and He has a plan and purpose for all of us. Looking back it’s amazing what God has done through all of this. And also just to share the beauty of surfing, it’s such an awesome sport and it will be exciting for people to watch.
First published in Insights magazine