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The Bethany Hamilton Story – Not Even a Brutal Shark Attack Could Stop This Surfing Champion

Updated: Mar 8, 2021

Bethany Hamilton went through every surfer’s nightmare scenario – a shark attack while doing what she loved. But even though she suffered a debilitating injury, she continued pursuing her dreams of competing on the surfing circuit. This is her story, an inspiring tale of perseverance everyone can learn from.


One of the truths about life is that there will be obstacles in the way. These obstacles can take many forms. They can be emotional, professional, physical, and so on. As these challenges mount, it is not uncommon for people to think their situation is hopeless.

But, there are individuals out there who simply refuse to quit no matter what. Whatever obstacles they face, they overcome them. In fact, they even grow stronger due to them – a sign of true greatness.

An excellent example of this comes from a somewhat unlikely source – surfing. This refers to Bethany Hamilton, a surfer who lost her arm in a shark attack but refused to give up the sport. She published a book explaining the ordeal, and there is even a movie based on her story – Soul Surfer. It came out in 2011 and starred AnnaSophia Robb, Helen Hunt, and Dennis Quaid.

A Short Bio - What Happened

The pivotal moment in Bethany Hamilton’s life happened in 2003 in Kauai, Hawaii. At the time, she was 13 and a highly ranked amateur surfer. On the morning of October 31st, Hamilton went to the beach to do some surfing, like she had done countless times before. Alana Blanchard, her best friend and a fellow surfer, was also there as were Blanchard’s father and brother.

The day may have started out like any other, but it wouldn’t be long before things took a disastrous turn.

As Hamilton was lying sideways on her board, a tiger shark surfaced and attacked her. The 14-foot predator bit Hamilton’s arm, inflicting severe injuries. After a struggle, the shark left the scene, leaving Bethany to float in bloody water.

Hamilton’s friends got her back to shore. Holt Blanchard created and applied a makeshift tourniquet, possibly saving Bethany’s life. They rushed Hamilton to a nearby hospital. Upon arriving, Bethany was in shock and had lost a massive amount of blood – around 60%. What is more, she had lost almost her entire left arm in the attack.

Fortunately, Hamilton made it through. However, it was clear that her life would never be the same. The physical injury coupled with the psychological and emotional trauma would be enough to break the spirit of anyone.

But, that would not be the case with Bethany. Instead, she would come out of the situation stronger and with a renewed sense of purpose.

After the Attack

The aftermath of the attack must have been a harrowing experience. It would be for anyone, and remember – Bethany was 13 at the time.

The big question had to do with the direction her life would take from then on. You see, Hamilton was a surfer through and through. She had been on the board from a very young age (both of her parents also surfed). Naturally, her plan was to make a professional career out of it.

However, her injury had cast doubt over that. After all, surfing requires you to paddle to catch the waves – Hamilton would need to do this with only one arm. There is also the issue of balance and whether the injury would have a permanent effect on it.

Finally, there is also the monumental issue of fear. In other words, it would take a lot of courage to go back into the water after what had happened. Statistically speaking, shark attacks aren’t too common. Therefore, the odds of it happening to anybody twice are very low. But, the odds matter little to someone who’s come face-to-face with a tiger shark.

Looking in from the outside, the questions seem overwhelming. As such, they would take a lot of time to process and fully grasp. However, that was not the mindset of Bethany Hamilton.

Her plan was simple – get back on her feet and back onto the surfboard. And if there was a way to continue competing, she would find it.

In this, she had a lot of support from the people around her. As mentioned, she came from an environment that was very passionate about surfing. In addition, both Bethany and her parents are deeply religious. So, aside from their friends, the Hamiltons also drew strength from their spiritual beliefs.

Thanks to this, it did not take long for Bethany to get back into the water. Or in this case, one month. Before she had even taken off all the bandages, she was back to doing what she loved most.

At first, she struggled so she relied on an easier-to-use surfboard. However, the struggles were very short-lived. You see, this isn’t a story of a recovery that took years. Instead, Hamilton only needed weeks to make changes to her technique that would accommodate for the loss of her arm. Then, her father designed a special grip for her to use so she went back to her usual boards.

All in all, the recovery was astonishing. At the start of 2004, she was able to take part in a major competition. And, she would go on competing to this day.

The Publicity

One part of Bethany’s life remained remarkably unchanged. She had planned to be a professional surfer, and the injury did not prevent that. But, she wasn’t only a surfer. Her remarkable story also put her in a position to become a role model.

You see, as soon as people learned that Bethany had returned to surfing, the media showered her with publicity.This is not something Bethany enjoyed due to her shy nature. Her parents even wondered whether to openly share the story or try to shelter their child from such exposure.

However, Bethany understood she had an amazing opportunity. The publicity would allow her to reach out and help others. So, despite her shyness, she decided to use it and get involved with charitable work.

As mentioned, Bethany is a spiritual and religious person who found meaning in what happened to her. She managed to overcome a huge tragedy and felt she needed to help others do the same. In the years that followed, she fought to become the best and showed others to never give up.

In her own words, she is in a position to encourage young girls and remind them that nothing should stop them from chasing their dreams.

Bethany the Champion

The shark attack happened in 2003. Since then, quite a few years have passed, and Bethany has been making the most of them. For instance, she has succeeded in spreading her message of overcoming adversity to many people.

To this end, she has made numerous TV appearances. As mentioned at the start, there were also her book and the movie. Hamilton has also started her own foundation. The non-profit organisation called “Friends of Bethany” has a mission to help individuals overcome the trials and pains of life. The foundation reaches out to amputees, organises retreats, and more.


Still, Bethany is a surfer above all. This means she has been competing ever since. And, the biggest success of her surfing career to date happened in 2016, 13 years after the incident.

That’s when Hamilton entered the Fiji Women's Pro as a wildcard. This was an elite event, featuring the world’s very best surfers. Hamilton had competed at this level before and prior to 2016, her best result was a ninth place finish. But, that year would be different.

This came about despite the competition did not start off well for Bethany. She was last in her group after the first round. Then, she came up against Tyler Wright. At the moment, Wright was the best-ranked surfer in the world, making her a huge favourite. But following a stellar performance, Hamilton triumphed and progressed further on.

Bethany also won in the following round and in the quarterfinals. Her run ended in the semi-finals. There, she lost to Johanne Defay, who would go on to win the event. In the end, Hamilton was third overall.

This is an amazing success in anyone’s book. But when you consider everything Hamilton went through to get there, it’s even more remarkable.

Of course, Hamilton was quick to praise everyone who helped her along the way. Speaking after the event, Bethany thanked her husband, family, and fans for their amazing support over the years.

Hamilton’s success in Fiji proves how empowering it can be to have a goal and the passion to pursue it no matter the odds. Couple that with the right support and no dreams are beyond reach.

Overcoming Adversity

The story of Bethany Hamilton is nothing short of amazing. Not only did she overcome a traumatic experience, but she even managed to come out all the stronger for it.

This just proves that determination and self-belief are what really counts. As long as you have that, no situation can stop you, no matter how bad it may be. If an aspiring athlete can overcome the loss of an arm, you too can triumph over your adversities.

Yes, the odds won’t always be in your favour. However, Hamilton’s tale shows that odds don’t matter when you’re determined to succeed. Bethany emerged victories, and you can too.

This is what I hope to achieve through my work. My goal is to show people that they can overcome whatever life throws their way. And when they need a bit of help and encouragement, I strive to provide it. If you feel this is something you or your organisation could benefit from, don’t hesitate to contact me.

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