It is not a question that, in order to become a successful surfer, you would require bouts of practice and perseverance. It’s not easy to smoothly ride a wave without being plunged 20 feet underwater. It’s not easy to get back on your surfboard after you’ve fallen. And it’s definitely not easy to get back into the water after having confronted a shark attack last time you were in it.
Born to Surf
Born on February 8th 1990 on a double rainbow day, Bethany Hamilton had always found surfing to be an integral aspect of her lifestyle. Her talent, which she considers a “gift from God,” allowed her to find success in several surfing competition growing up. She won first place in her first Australian competition at the tender age of 8, and made headlines in the United States only four years later, after having dominated the Open Women's Division of the NSSA.
On the morning of October 31st 2003, 13-year old Bethany went for a surf with a friend, and now fellow professional surfer, Alana Blanchard. While Bethany was accustomed to taking on the waves of Tunnel Beach, not once did it occur to her that the waters were so shark-ridden. Suddenly, while navigating a wave, Bethany found herself the victim of a 14-foot-long tiger shark, amputating the length of her left arm. After having lost 60% of her blood and having suffered hypovolemic shock, Bethany barely made it to the hospital alive. Bethany managed to fight her way through the trauma and started to recover, slowly but surely. However, she remained haunted by one question: would she ever be able to surf again?
Only 26 Days Later…
Bethany was determined not to let the shark attack get in the way of her getting back in the water. From designing custom-made boards to help her navigate with one arm, and hours of tireless practice, Bethany exhausted all possibilities to make sure her dream of surfing was not one that was to be robbed from her. And less than one month later, she found herself surfing once again, with not a trace of fear that she would be exposed to another awful attack, or worse, not be able to surf with one arm.
A Little Bit of Practice And a Whole Lot of Faith
Four months later, Bethany found herself competing once again in the national competition, ditching her custom-made board for a standard one, finding confidence in her abilities once again. One year later, she dominated national competitions once again, after winning first place in the National Scholastic Surfing Association National Championship for the 18-and-under age group. In 2009, she conquered the international scene when she made her World Tour Debut and in 2016, she nailed one of her biggest victories when beating six-time world champion Stephanie Gilmore and, world No. 1 at the time, Tyler Wright.
Hamilton’s spirit was the biggest determinant in her return to the surfing scene. "I guess my passion for surfing outweighed my fear of sharks, and I was just waiting until the doctor said I had the OK to get in the ocean," she claims, "This is what I dreamed of, and the loss of my arm didn't stop that dream."
“Biggest Comeback Story of Our Era”
It is no secret that Bethany’s story has rendered her a role model for many. Her resilience and determination have set an example for several people, and have cemented her legacy as one that, for a long time, will not be forgotten. Not only was she featured on some of the most popular shows on national television, including The Oprah Winfrey Show and The Ellen DeGeneres Show, but a whole documentary, called Unstoppable, dedicated to retelling her story of faith and determination was released earlier last summer.
Today, she continues to partake in competitions, never failing to re-establish herself amongst the best in the surfing game. She also dedicates a great deal of time and energy into her own charitable foundation, “Friends of Bethany,” dedicated to allowing amputees and youth to overcome their barriers and restore hope into their lives.
This Caddyboo heroes’ growth, both as a surfer and as an individual, will write her down in history as a role model to look up to for a long time. One that we all look up to remind ourselves that, with resilience and creativity, nothing is unachievable. It is not a question that, in order to become a successful surfer, you would require bouts of practice and perseverance. With a little bit of faith, you’ll always find it in you to get back on your feet after you’ve been plunged into the water. With a little bit of faith, you’ll be doing what you can’t.