From being attacked by a shark and losing her arm at age 13, to being among the most influential athletes in the world: Bethany Hamilton’s story of resilience

Bethany Hamilton was attacked by a shark at the age of 13

“I went to see her, she was white as a sheet. She was pale from blood loss and when I looked down his arm was gone. It was shocking. The worst moment of my life was seeing that. But true to his positive spirit, he told me: ‘Don’t worry daddy, I’ll be fine’”.

With tears in the eyesTom Hamilton relive over and over again what happened that October 31, 2003the date on which a shark attack unexpectedly changed Bethany’s life in a matter of seconds.

By then, the 13-year-old was emerging as the best surfer in the world. A fearless, risky, brave and determined girl began to amaze with her ability with the table after winning several competitions in her native Hawaii.

“In the first year he won everything he participated in. It was a machine and soon he sponsored it Rip Curl”, explained his father full of pride in the documentary Unstoppable: Life Without Fear (Netflix) tells the story of his daughter.

Bethany Hamilton, the surfer who overcame adversity
At 13, Hamilton was emerging as one of the best in the world

The objective of Tom and Chery (his mom) was going perfectly. Both surfers had decided to leave the American dream and move to Hawaii in search of a quiet life where they could combine the love of sports and raising their children.

Bethany, the third child in the family, was born practically in the water. with nine years the australian company Rip Curl laid eyes on her after a children’s competition and offered her a contract without hesitation, with ten he made his professional debut with a win at the 23rd Annual Haleiwa Menehune Championship and at 13 his future would change foreverwhen a shark ripped off his left arm.


Like every morning, around 7 am, Bethany got up, had breakfast, took his board and headed to the beach to meet Alana (her best friend), Byron (Alana’s brother), and Holt Blanchard (Alana’s father).

In order to catch the best waves that Kauai’s beach had to offer, Beth and her friend moved about 300 meters from the coast to catch a good manga. It was 7:35 when both were lying on their tables; Bethany with one arm submerged in the water, not imagining what was about to happen.

The crystal clear sea quickly turned red. The cries of pain and despair resounded in the midst of the silence and tranquility that prevailed in the area. A four-meter tiger shark had ripped off his left arm just below the shoulder.

Minutes later, and thanks to the quick action of Alana and her family, Bethany was already in a hospital bed; she is alive, but in critical condition having lost about 60% of her blood. “I saw how they ate my friend’s arm. It definitely affected me. I had many nightmares and until now I am afraid of sharks, “revealed Alana Blanchard in the documentary released in 2018.

Bethany Hamilton, the surfer who overcame adversity
Bethany was taken to a hospital in critical condition. She had lost 60% of her blood after the attack

Lovers of technology and connoisseurs of the talent that their daughter had. His parents filmed it all. The film broadcast on the digital platform offered exclusive images of Bethany’s first moments in the medical center. “I will be a professional surfer”were the words that came out of her mouth after suffering the attack and becoming a survivor.

“Six days after losing my arm, I already had hopes of surfing again. I didn’t know what would happen, or what it would look like, but I wanted to try it,” he recalls. Four weeks after the traumatic accident she was back in the water.

Despite living for 13 years with both limbs, with great willpower, the little girl quickly adapted to her new daily life. However, When it came to surfing, things weren’t going the way I imagined.

“Half the difficulty of surfing with one arm was getting through the swell to be able to catch the waves. I couldn’t get out because I couldn’t dive in. The waves crashed into me over and over again, ”she explained about those difficult moments of depression and obfuscation. “She was discouraged and I was discouraged to see her like this”added his father.

Tom was aware of the obstacles his daughter was facing and decided to do something that would completely change the future of her sports life. “I realized that he couldn’t hold on to his board and I came up with the idea of ​​attaching a handle to it that I would use to hold onto and being able to dive in and then come out.”

Two years after the accident, Bethany surprised everyone by performing at the U-18 US National. She was the first time a female surfer was going to compete without an arm. Paddling with one arm, catching a wave, standing on the board… it seemed impossible.

“First of all, I want to thank Jesus Christ because he is my everything. I couldn’t be here today without him. Also to my coach Ben Aipa, to you and to all the competitors for making the tournament more fun and difficult”, were the words of Bethany at the lectern after becoming champion of the event.

That triumph marked a before and after in his life. Bethany never gave up her dreams. At the age of 14, she had achieved what her peers couldn’t with both arms.

By then his name was on the front pages of the American media. His story of overcoming aroused the admiration of allbecoming an example of resilience for both the young and the older.

His autobiography published in 2004 Soul of a surfer: a true story of faith, family and the fight to get back on the boardbecame a bestseller, just like his movie Heart Of a Soul Surferreleased in 2011, and with which 10.6 million dollars were collected during the first weekend being one of the highest grossing in the North American country back then.

That public recognition went hand in hand with his great performances within the sport: 1st place in the O’Neill Island Girl Junior Pro 2005, fifth place in the NSSA National Championship under 18 (2006) -the most important youth tournament-, third at the Roxy Pro Surf Festival (2008). Despite what had happened to her body, Bethany was able to continue to compete against the best.

As far as his personal life is concerned, in 2013 she met Adam Dirksher current husband and adventure partner with whom she formed a family with her three children (Tobias, Wesley and Micah).

Bethany Hamilton, the surfer who overcame adversity


Less than a year after the birth of her first child, Bethany received a special invitation to compete in the World Surfer League (WSL) Fiji Women’s Professional, the entity that regulates sport in the world. Without thinking twice, and tempted by her competitive spirit, the Hawaiian took her board and headed for the oceanic archipelago.

Bethany had made it. I was going to compete alongside the best in the world. His first rival was going to be nothing more and nothing less than Tyler Wright, the current champion and number two in the international ranking. At the end of the day, Hamilton celebrated by winning and going through the round.

the next was going to be stephanie gilmore six times champion in Fiji. She again won the victory to access the semifinals, where she was going to face each other with Joan Defaywho finally prevailed over the Hawaiian and established herself in the event. “I lost against the best”commented Beth with a smile on her face when she finished third, but knowing that she was up to it to compete in the elite.

“I appreciate the support received these days and also the support of my husband,” remarked the lace that today, at 31 years old, she is among the top 20 in the world of the WSL.

Bethany Hamilton, the surfer who overcame adversity
Hamilton became an example of overcoming for the world

“I was attacked by a shark when I was 13 years old and I lost my arm. I have remained stable in my mind and my beliefs. Despite the challenges that life presented me, I did so much more in my life than I ever could have imagined. Today I am a wife, a mother of three beautiful healthy children and this truth remains the same: God loves me, and being a professional surfer is my vocation, ”says Bethany Hamilton in the biography of her official website.

The Hawaiian, who last year was included in the list of the 50 most influential athletes of 2021 along with Lionel Messi, Simone Biles, Rafael Nadal and Lebron James among others, today he intertwines his love for sports with his social facet, giving motivational talks, directing the Wonderfully Defective Foundation (formerly known as Friends of Bethany) helping those who experienced a situation similar to yours, and providing online courses on self-improvement.

As for surfing, in January this year Beth renewed his contract with Rip Curl for five years more, maintaining a close relationship from the first moment they signed it (1999): “I’m a little amazed that we’ve been together for so long,” she remarked.

What’s more, continues to compete within the WSL. His last participation was as a guest after Stephanie Gilmore’s injury at the Billabong Pro Pipeline end of January. Hamilton joined group 5 along with Tyler Wright and India Robinson, accessing the round of 16 of elimination 5. It was in that instance that he said goodbye to the tournament by falling below Carissa Moore (current number 4 in the ranking), getting 9th place.

“When you feel that the current is continually against you… Keep going, keep believing, find your hope and reach out to a loved one. You can win!”, is one of Bethany’s advice to her more than 2.1 million followers on her social networks.


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