YOU MIGHT KNOW Bethany Hamilton as “that surfer who lost her arm in a shark attack.”
Fair enough. Hamilton did indeed lose her left arm after being attacked by a 15-foot tiger shark in the waters off of Kauai in 2003. But that isn’t what makes her story interesting. The fascinating part is that three weeks later, she was back in the water, that she learned to surf again, and that she’s spent the past decade living out her dreams of surfing professionally.
Even if you have no interest in surfing, you might remember the biopic Soul Surfer. Or maybe you saw her when she won an ESPY, did the Ellen and Oprah thing, or competed on The Amazing Race. But it’s important to note that none of that fame came from losing her arm. It came from the strength, grit, and personal fortitude she exhibited in dealing with the loss.
Aside from all the media surrounding her, know this: She would still be a well-known athlete with two arms. Because Bethany Hamilton is an absolutely ripping surfer. When she competes, the other women in the water aren’t thinking about her story. They are too busy giving everything they’ve got to beat one of the hardest-charging wave riders on the planet.
With her wildcard entry at the Swatch Women’s Pro at Lower Trestles (starting this morning), it seemed fitting to remind everyone just how badass Bethany Hamilton is.
1. She’s about to surf in a professional contest after having a baby in June.
Hamilton and her husband just had their first child, Tobias, on June 1. Now, in early September, she’s slated to surf against women who were tuned up and touring while she was pregnant. This video, by the World Surf League, shows Hamilton prepping for the contest with Kelly Slater.
2. She’s a power surfer who can go airborne.
Airs and air-reverses have become the standard for competitive surfers. It’s an aggressive move that requires very precise speed-management, balance, and spatial awareness. Bethany throws them with style.
3. She’s got no patience for misconceptions about women surfers.
Hamilton has a two-part film, Surfs Like a Girl, fully funded and on the way. The movie will be shot by Aaron Lieber (who you should know from The Wild). In it, Bethany will surely proceed to smash any foolish notions you might have about women in surfing.
4. She’s always eager to paddle out; even when she was six months pregnant.
Here’s Bethany very pregnant and surfing with one arm. It makes the average excuse for not going to have an adventure seem a tad flimsy, right?
5. She took the shark’s teeth home to make a necklace.
That’s the sort of general badassery that Hamilton has shown from the very beginning of her time in the public eye. Consider this moment (via the Inertia):
Then she looks up at Billy Hamilton and asks if she can have some of the teeth for a necklace she would like to make. An amulet to protect her in the future. The men are so stunned that nobody speaks.
She was 13 at the time.
6. She’s surfed Teahupo’o.
It’s one of the most technical drops in surfing. It takes a ton of courage, because you have to paddle way before the wave gets to you, so you’re committing yourself, knowing that if you picked the wrong wave you’ll get pitched over the falls. You have to go like a dog with rabies, then you have to have the skill to knife your board under that lip, and, kind of, free-fall or slide down the face. There are a million reasons to be scared and insecure, and not go.
7. She embodies every speech you’ve ever heard about determination and mental toughness.
Both as a mother (via Newsweek):
I often forget that I have one arm…. I think there’s going to be things that will be very challenging with one arm, but I’ll just have to find my own way to take care of the baby…I’ll have to figure it out and be creative.
And as a surfer. As Kelly Slater himself says:
I think it would be a real wakeup if everyone had to go out with one arm and catch these waves — and she doesn’t have a problem with it. On top of that, she just had a kid three months ago, I mean she is…she’s unbelievable.
8. She was her own stunt double.
Hamilton was played by actress AnnaSophia Robb in Soul Surfer, but did all of the surfing herself. To reiterate: She did the stunts for the actress playing her in a movie about her. Respect.
9. She wrote a No. 1 New York Times bestseller.
Just in case surfing doesn’t impress you, her autobiography, Soul Surfer, made it to the top of the NYT list.
10. She is truly kind.
Kindness, in a world that often seems determined to leave us all jaded, is its own form of toughness. Last weekend, Uproxx had the chance to surf with Bethany, and her warmth left us just as amazed as her wave-riding [more on this soon].