Every surfer has seen Jaws. At some point they’ve all hummed the theme tune as they paddled out into the waves, only half in jest. You see, amongst these swell hunters there’s a genuine respect for the ocean and it’s apex predator; but then few ever really encounter a large shark in a feeding frenzy. Bethany Hamilton was no different. Until the day her world changed.
In 2003 Bethany, just 13 at the time, was surfing with a friend at Tunnels Beach off the coast of the Hawaiian island of Kauai when a 14-foot Tiger Shark attacked her and severed her left arm just below the shoulder.
A serendipitous twist of fate meant that Bethany was rushed to a nearby hospital where her father was due to undergo knee surgery and took his place on the operating table instead. She had lost more than 60% of her blood and was in hypovolemic shock. She doesn’t remember feeling much pain, but has often referred to a conscious awareness of the need to stay calm and keep breathing.
She was released from hospital one week after the attack an immediately began adjusting to the world with the new reality that she only had one arm.
She would have been forgiven for never going back into the ocean again. But this young woman is made of different stuff; unbelievably Bethany was back out in the surf less than one month after the attack.
Over the following months and years she embarked on intensive physical therapy and strengthening regimes to adjust her balance and movements to compensate for her missing arm. A long journey that required an immense amount of positivity reflected by probably one of Bethany’s most famous sound bytes, ”I don’t need easy. I just need possible.”
But, she wasn’t content to just be back out in the surf, she wanted to realize her dream of becoming a competitive professional surfer; a dream that she duly achieved.
These days Bethany competes alongside able-bodied athletes on the Woman’s Surf League – her only concession is a handle on her board to help her duck dive large waves when paddling out to the backline.
At the beginning of this year Bethany placed 3rd – a career best – at the Fiji Women’s Pro event, in the process eliminating six-time world champion Stephanie Gilmore and world number one Tyler Wright.
But, Bethany insists she’s surfing for fun and to be role model for young girls. “I know I’m in a unique position to hopefully encourage young girls to chase their dreams,” she added.
Her incredible story and bravery has caught the attention of news channels around the world and inspired a 2011 Hollywood film “Soul Surfer” that featured Dennis Quaid and Academy Award winner Helen Hunt.
When one thinks about ones own challenges, you only need to consider Bethany Hamilton’s example and realize that if you just relax and stay positive, you will always come out on top.