Soul Surfer A true story of faith, determination, and Fighting to Get back on the board


Bethany Hamilton was born in Kauai, Hawaii in 1990. Many locals on the island say she was born with saltwater in her veins. Her dad, Tom, was the "ultimate surfer nut" (Hamilton Soul Surfer) and her mother, Cheri, was also obsessed with the sport. Naturally, she was drawn to the ocean and began to surf when she was 3 years old. Bethany was homeschooled to train more, and it paid off. By age 8, she was surfing in competitions, and by age 9 she had already earned her first sponsorship from RipCurl (Ott). Although she was young, she had great potential to fulfill her dream of becoming a professional surfer. On Halloween morning at age 13, Bethany went with family friends, the Blanchard's, to surf Tunnels Beach. It felt like an ordinary day; however, her promising future was seemingly de-railed during the events that follow.

Left: Bethany with her best friend Alana Blanchard, who was with her at the attack. Right: Bethany surfing before losing her left arm.

Dark Hours

"It came, literally, out of the blue. I had no warning at all; not even the slightest hint of danger on the horizon." -Bethany Hamilton

Bethany was calmly relaxing on the board with her left hand dangling in the warm ocean water. The waves were calm, and she had only been in the water for about a half an hour. Suddenly, Bethany felt a terrible pressure and snag on her arm. Immediately, the water around her turned bright red and she knew what had happened: shark attack. Bethany was attacked by a 14 foot tiger shark and lost her entire left arm (Ott). The next few hours were a whirlwind of emotions and difficulties, a time that Bethany refers to as the dark hours. She remembers catching glimpses of people helping her, but she was repeatedly going in and out of consciousness. One moment she clearly recalls was entering the ambulance and hearing the paramedic whisper in her ear, "God will never leave you or forsake you" (Hamilton Soul Surfer). It was a miracle Bethany survived the attack after losing 60% of her blood and undergoing multiple surgeries (Durham).

Left: Bethany recovering in the hospital a few days after her attack. Right: Bethany with Alana after the attack.

After the Attack

Bethany's life came to a screeching halt when she lost her arm. In an interview, Bethany claims that, "So many thoughts went through [her] head during the days following the attack" (Durham). Bethany thought she would have to move to the mountains and become a snowboarder or maybe be a photographer (Durham).

Bethany grew up in a very religious and tight-knit family. She can remember "putting [her] trust in Christ when [she] was just a little kid, probably around five years old" (Hamilton Soul Surfer). Today, she admits she was lost after the attack, and thought God had betrayed her. However, this lasted only for a short while. Instead of being mad at God, she asked him what His plans were for her and how the shark attack fit in. Three weeks after the attack she was back in the water (Ott). On her third wave she stood up, and she realized God had given her the peace and strength to overcome the attack (Durham). From this moment on, Bethany began training with her dad for competitions, where she said one of her most famous quotes: "I don't need easy, I just need possible" ( Hamilton Soul Surfer).

"I don't need easy, I just need possible." -Bethany Hamilton
Bethany and Alana many years after the attack

Lost Identity

The days following her attack, Bethany felt lost in the world without surfing. When she was previously confronted with the question "To whom do I belong?" she answered with surfing and her family. She has a very close relationship with her parents, similar to Marjane's relationship with her grandmother in Persepolis.

When Marjane was growing up in Iran, she frequently changed her lifestyle to conform to those around her in search of her identity. She imitated popular figures such as Kim Wilde and Iron Maiden and bought Michael Jackson pins and punk rock posters (Satrapi 131). During her adolescence, Marjane felt lost, alone, and abandoned by God. This is portrayed very well through the slide shown above. Marjane is drawn floating in outer space with no bearings. She is mindless, unable to navigate her own life (Satrapi 71). After Bethany's attack, she felt similar in some aspects to Marjane. Surfing is what Bethany identified herself with, and without it, she felt lost (video- 1:20:08). Bethany felt that God had betrayed her and could not understand why His plan entailed this attack when she was on the way to becoming a professional surfer.

Luckily for Bethany, she quickly opened back up to God, and her accident helped her find herself in the long run. She realized she was meant to be more than just a professional surfer. She was meant to be a light of God and spread His word. Without gaining popularity from the attack, she would have never been able to reach out to as many people she does today.

Jeremiah 29:11

This Bible verse reads: For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Bethany's youth pastor came to her the day of the attack and told her this verse, and it has been Bethany's favorite Bible verse ever since. This was written during the Babylonian exile, where the Israelites believed they were getting punished by God for some sort of a wrongdoing (Hooker). In The Power of Parable, Crossan portrays a story of Job that interlaces with Jeremiah 29:11. Job lost his family, livestock, and many servants, and his friends believed that God must be cursing Job with punishment for disobedience (Crossan 84-85). However, God ends up giving Job back double what he lost (Crossan 87).

While I am by no means trying to interpret Bethany's attack as a punishment by God, it can be compared to the story of Job because even thought Bethany lost her arm, she gained confidence, wisdom, courage, fans and supporters, and arguably more than double what she lost.

In Seeing the World and Knowing God, Fiddes also speaks about Job. He states that sometimes no rational explanation can be found for suffering, and neither God nor wisdom can therefore be boxed up in one conceptual place (Fiddes 238). Bethany has found wisdom through her suffering, though it was not easy. Through Fiddes' interpretation of the wise, he states "the wise are open to finding the new and unexpected insight that disrupts the world as they think they know it," (Fiddes 80) which is exactly what Bethany did. She did not allow herself to become depressed and give up on surfing. She believed that God had a bigger plan for her, and discovered that she was meant to be a light for Him. She was open to a new interpretation of her life the way she thought she knew it, exhibiting how she gained wisdom from her suffering.

A Journey to Professional Excellence

Not only did Bethany gain newfound wisdom, but she also presented courage throughout her attack, suffering, and perseverance to follow her dreams of becoming a professional surfer. In Bemak and Conyne's book Journeys to Professional Excellence, they give experiences of five different professionals to teach the readers' lessons that emerged from these accounts and highlight aspects of courage, innovation, and risk-taking. The authors explain that one way to think of a professional journey is as a "work trek: more or less focused wandering, full of highs and lows, ups and downs, as the Beatles said 'a long and winding road' for many" (Bemak 1). Bethany Hamilton has certainly conquered her professional journey and found much success.


Courage is considered a universal virtue. Winston Churchill once said, "courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities...because it is the quality which guarantees all others" (Bemak 2). Courage is considered to embody emotional strengths that emphasize accomplishing goals in spite of external and internal conflict. Bethany displayed this character domain when she continued to pursue her dream of becoming a professional surfer, even after her shark attack. The four types of courage are physical, moral, vital, and psychological. Bethany displays vital, which relates to perseverance despite personal obstacles, and psychological, which is displayed when someone shows strength while confronting personal challenges and threats.

Bethany displayed vital courage when she persevered through her states of emotional and physical weakness to get back on the board and be a positive influence to others. When she returned home from the hospital, she replied to hundreds of fan mail letters. One of the letters she received was from a young boy was too scared to try out for his school's soccer team because he didn't think he was good enough. However, when he heard of Bethany's attack and how she was beginning to train for surfing despite the accident, he decided to conquer his fears and try out for the team.

Bethany most strongly displays psychological courage. She lost her arm, she questioned God, and she thought her dreams were lost. Despite all of this, she did not feel sorry for herself or give up her dreams. Instead, she was not going to let this accident define her. She went on service trips and took a break from surfing to find herself and figure out God's new plan for her. She exhibited strength while confronting personal challenge and persevered through her life's hardest moments, demonstrating courage and strength.

Bethany's Life as a Parable

Through her display of courage and wisdom, Bethany acts a source of inspiration in my life. Her shark attack is an example of a eucatastrophe, translated as a good catastrophe. The situation appeared to be a disaster at first; however, it helped her flourish in the end. Bethany acts as a positive example to me to change not only my mindset, but also my behavior, just as Kierkegaard aims to do with his parables. The Parables of Kierkegaard, edited by Thomas Oden, explains in the introduction that Kierkegaard’s parables aim “not merely at a change of mind but a change of will” (Oden xiv). Oden proclaims, “Kierkegaard’s parables intend to communicate an enriched capacity for self-examination leading to increased moral sensitivity and intensified spirituality” (Oden xv). Bethany’s perseverance challenges me, just as Kierkegaard’s parables aim to do, to become a better person, not just by thinking it, but by taking action and pursuing change.

Kierkegaard wrote a parable called the “The Happy Conflagration,” which appears in the book Introduction to Christianity by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. In this parable, a fire broke out in the backstage of a circus, where all of the performers were dressed in costume. The clown came out to inform the public, but no one took him seriously- the crowd applauded and laughed. The more the clown tried to explain the fire was real, the more laughter he was applauded. Eventually, it was too late and both the circus and the town burned to ashes. This story is referenced as an analogy of how people view theologians today- a clown. This parable contains an element of truth in society today; it reflects the oppressive reality in which theology is imprisoned and its “frustrating inability to break through accepted patterns of thought and speech and make people recognize the subject matter of theology as a serious aspect of human life” (Ratzinger 40). Furthermore, it teaches that both the believer and non-believer are threatened by uncertainty in his or her life that shines light on the fragility of faith.

Even famous religious figures who appear grounded and confident in their faith experience these moments of doubt. For example, consider St. Therese. She grew up in an atmosphere of religious security, and her entire existence was molded by the grace of God. Her faith seemed to be an “almost tangible reality that could not be removed by any amount of thinking” (Ratzinger 42). Yet this very saint left behind her “shattering admissions” (Ratzinger 42). For example, she said that she was “assailed by the worst temptation of atheism” (Ratzinger 42).

Speaking metaphorically, only a loose plank floating in the sea connects human beings to God, and eventually the floating plank will sink if it does not find ground. A believer must place his or her faith in something strong to avoid losing faith and pursuing doubt. Bethany was haunted by this doubt following her accident. She had doubt that she would never be able to surf again. However, her relationship with God remained strong (with a few struggles, Bethany does admit). Bethany states that she's "spent her whole life enjoying the ocean, the surf, and the sand on the beach...but I've seen how one wave can just wipe out a sand castle in a second" (Hamilton Rise Above 12). Bethany made God the rock in her life- her foundation. She keeps her relationship with him strong because she knows she can't put her hope and faith into something that will disappear (Hamilton Rise Above 12). She knows God will never disappear from her life, and He helped her discover that her new purpose was to be a light of God through her surfing and to reach out to others to follow their dreams and rise above life’s difficulties.

Popular Culture

"Normal is so overrated" -Cheri Hamilton

To fulfill her newfound purpose of being a light for God, Bethany began a charity group and is very active on social media to reach out to as many people as possible. Friends of Bethany is a non-profit organization that was established by friends and family of Bethany. After her attack happened and she overcame what seemed impossible, Bethany and her loved ones wanted to find a way to inspire others to do the same. Their mission is to reach out to people who may be suffering and help them become over-comers in Christ. Their major events are holding retreats and conferences, such as their Beautifully Flawed retreat coming up in October of 2018. This is a retreat that encourages those who have experienced limb loss or other difficult situations. It has a major theme taken from the Song of Solomon 4:7- “You are altogether beautiful, my darling, There is no flaw in you.”

Bethany is active on social media sites such as Instagram and Facebook. Of course she posts picture of surfing, but she also posts Bible verses, pictures and videos of nature, and pictures of her husband, Adam, and her two children, Tobias and Wesley. Given her past, just watching her surf in inspiring and beautiful.

There is a scene in her movie Soul Surfer where she is laying on her bed with her favorite Barbie doll, which she rips the left arm off of. She begins to cry and her mother comes in to comfort her. She asks her mom how she will ever find a boyfriend when she is this ugly (1:04:30). Knowing that is how she once felt, fast-forwarding fifteen years is incredible to see that she now has a husband and two young boys. Through reflection and faith, she realized that she was never ugly; she was beautifully flawed.

“I don't really want people looking to me for inspiration. I just want to be a sign along the way that points toward Heaven.” -bethany hamilton

“Life is a lot like surfing… When you get caught in the impact zone, you’ve got to just get back up. Because you never know what may be over the next wave.”-Bethany hamilton

“Life is full of what-ifs. You can’t let it hold you back. If you do, you’re not really living at all . . . just kind of going through the motions with no meaning.” -bethany hamilton

“Courage doesn't mean you don't get afraid. Courage means you don't let fear stop you.”-bethany hamilton

“Here's my advice: don't put all your hope and faith into something that could suddenly and easily disappear. And honestly, that's almost anything. The only thing that will never go away, that will never fail you, is your faith in God.”-bethany hamilton

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