“Soul Surfer” shows strength

At the age of 13, Bethany Hamilton was free-surfing at Tunnels Beach, Kauai, with her close friend Alana Blanchard, when she was attacked by a shark. She woke up in the hospital the next morning with just one arm.

“Soul Surfer”, a biographical drama released in 2011 that is currently on Netflix, tells the incredible story of Hamilton’s journey through her recovery following the traumatic incident, all the way to the Women’s Pipe Pro Invitational Surf Contest. 

During the attack, Hamilton lost 60% of her blood, and was rushed to the hospital, where her father happened to be preparing for a planned knee surgery at the same time. 

The film reveals the hardships Hamilton faces with everyday activities, including a heartbreaking scene where she tries to cut a tomato for the first time with just one arm; she puts the cutting board on the floor in an effort to steady herself, but can’t pick it up again. This scene was inspired from actual footage of Bethany Hamilton in the weeks following the incident. 

Despite these setbacks, the incredibly resilient Hamilton was out on the water surfing just three weeks after her surgery. Hamilton struggles to adapt to surfing with just one arm, but with the aid of her father, who makes a specialized rope handle for her surfboard, Hamilton relearns to surf with grace and regains confidence in herself and the sport she has always loved.

The movie moves on to capture a trip to Thailand Hamilton took with World Vision, where she volunteers to help the people after a severe tsunami in 2005. This part of the movie reshifts the focus on the movie and expresses Hamilton’s gratitude for her life following the attack.

Although Hollywood is known for its dramatization of true stories, the majority of the film is accurate to her experiences; the loss of blood, her father’s surgery and the dramatic scene in which her brother breaks open the car window in order to get a phone to call the hospital all actually happened. 

Hamilton and her family were heavily consulted throughout the making of the movie, and many make guest appearances as extras throughout. Especially notable is Hamilton’s role as her own stunt double for all of the one-armed surfing shots. 

Without a doubt, the film made a lasting impact on the surfing community. Hamilton’s board remains on display in the History of Women’s Surfing exhibit at the California Surf Museum in Oceanside, and she created the non-profit foundation Friends of Bethany Hamilton to support shark attack amputees.  

However, you don’t have to be an avid surfer to be inspired by her courage and humility as she adapts after this life-changing event. Hamilton’s journey can be looked at from viewers of all ages as an example of how to heal and grow following a traumatic experience.

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