While the names of professional surfers are not as widely known as, for example, those of footballers or basketball players, the name Bethany Hamilton may ring a bell.
The Hawaiian born athlete started surfing at the humble age of eight, and only a year later, when Bethany was nine years old, she got her first sponsorship, landing her on the radar as promising young talent in the surf world.
She initially became famous though, not for her talent or her skill (which she had a ton of), but for her story. In October of 2003, on Halloween to be exact, Hamilton, 13 at the time, went for a morning surf on a beach on the island of Kauai, Hawaii archipelago, when a 14ft (4.3 metres) tiger shark bit off most of her left arm and a good chunk of her surfboard. Luckily, her best friend at the time, Alana Blanchard, and Alana’s father were with her in the water and helped the shocked and badly injured young girl to paddle out of the water and then tried their best to stop the bleeding until they arrived at the hospital.
By the time Bethany made it to the hospital she had lost two thirds of her blood. She spent about a week in recovery before she was released.
The rising surf star’s career seemed to have taken a turn for the worst, but instead of finishing her story as a failed athlete and victim of an exceptionally unfortunate shark attack, she did not stop there, and now her story is one of hope, determination and courage.
26 days after the attack, Bethany was back out there in the water, doing what she loves and adapting to her new circumstances. And quite successfully too. Within 2 years she got her first national title. She is now one of the most respected surfers in the world, and was even the first female to ever compete in the Rip Curl Cup in Padang Padang, Indonesia and in 2016 she beat a six-time world surf champion in a WSL (World Surf League) event. In 2017 she was finally included in the Surfer’s Hall of Fame.
Today Bethany Hamilton is so much more than just a world class female surfer. She is a bestselling author of her autobiography, a motivational speaker and has her own foundation, Friends of Bethany. She organises different retreats several times a year for young women and men who also experienced traumatic limb loss, she teaches them how to surf and gives them postural training that shows them how to keep their spines aligned as their body compensates for the loss of an arm or leg.