Who Is Bethany Hamilton? New Details On The Surfer Who Lost Her Arm To Shark Attack At 13 And The New Documentary About Her

She’s sporty. She’s literary. She’s the one-armed surfer mom, Bethany Hamilton.

Who Is Bethany Hamilton? New Details On The Surfer Who Lost Her Arm To Shark Attack At 13 And The New Documentary About Her Instagram

Anyone remember the movie Soul Surfer (2011) with AnnaSofia Rob about a surfer girl who loses her arm to a shark bite? Her name is actually Bethany Hamilton, and I don’t know if you knew this, but last year a documentary was made about her called Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable, and it’s amazing. What’s this woman’s story? Who is Bethany Hamilton?

1. She grew up in Hawaii, so she’s been surfing her whole life

Apparently, in Hawaii, the beach is their playground. Her parents, Tom and Cheri, were both lifelong surfers and so were her older brothers, Noah and Tim. Her best friend, Alana Blanchard, was a surfer, too, and by 2008, when she was only eight-years-old, they would enter competitions together. By just nine-years-old, she was getting sponsored. In 1999, she got her first sponsors with Carroll Surfboards and Rip Curl (a designer, manufacturer and retailer of surfing sportswear).


2. She became one of the world’s top ranked amateur surfers.

In 2002, she won the 2002 National Scholastic Surfing Association (NSSA) Open Women’s Division. She came in second the following year in 2003, which happened to have been the same year as the attack.


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3. Her dad was supposed to be getting a knee operation the same day as the attack

On October 31, 2003 Bethany’s dad was at scheduled for a knee operation at the nearby Wilcox Memorial Hospital. Over on the beach, Bethany was surfing, belly down, left arm casually dangling in the water. Then she felt an intense pressure all of a sudden that pulled at her arm. Initially it was painless, so she looked around to see what it was, which is when she saw the red water around her. She screamed for her father, he came running and leapt to action building her a makeshift tourniquet to stop the bleeding and then rushed her to the hospital. By the time they reached the hospital she’d lost 60% of her blood. Her arm had been taken off so cleanly that the surgeon actually thought someone had already performed the amputation.


4. She became a survivor, not a victim

Of course she wasn’t done surfing after a shark attack. With faith, devotion, and incredible perseverance, she recovered, went to to rehab and got back into the water as soon as she could. “I had about three to four weeks of healing and recovery before I could give surfing with one arm a try. The doctor ordered me to stay out of the water until everything healed up. I set a deadline for myself: Thanksgiving Day.” And she did it!

Her dad even built her a custom board with a special grip so she could manage the duck dive, which requires two arms to paddle you back out into the water so you don’t get swept back to shore when you plunge under an oncoming wave.

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5. She wrote a book (which turned into a movie) and then went on to win more awards

Bethany released a book, Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board, which revealed the details of her comeback experience (and was made into a Hollywood movie in 2011). She was invited to the 2004 ESPY Awards as one of the nominees for the Comeback Athlete of the Year. That same year she was invited to the Nickelodeon Teen Choice Awards. At only 15, Bethany came in first-place in the Open Women’s division of the 2005 NSSA National Championships.

6. Now she’s married with two kids and happy as ever

In 2012, she reconnected with Adam Dirks, who she’d attended church with since she was little. They’d literally go cliff diving for dates. In April of 2013 they got engaged and they were married in August of the same year. The couple competed in The Amazing Race together. They welcomed their first child, Tobias, in 2015, and then their next, Wesley, in 2018.

That same year she released two new books, Be Unstoppable: The Art of Never Giving Up and Unstoppable Me, a children’s book about a little lion who learns to never give up through her love of surfing.


RELATED: The 15 Best Shark Movies Of All Time


Wow. That’s one of the most inspiring stories I’ve ever researched. Go Bethany!

Leah Scher is an ENFP finishing her degree at Brandeis University. She's an alumna of the Kenyon Review Young Writer's Workshop the Iowa Young Writers' Studio. She's passionate about Judaism, poetry, film, satire, astrology, spirituality, and sexual health. She draws inspiration for her writing from writer/director Wes Anderson, and for her lifestyle from her grandmother. Lastly, she's always actively seeking two things: a job having anything at all to do with publishing, and a chance to meet Jesse Eisenberg.