Inspiration Information — Bethany Hamilton

by aaron on August 19, 2010

“The marvelous richness of human experience would lose something of rewarding joy if there were no limitations to overcome. The hilltop hour would not be half so wonderful if there were no dark valleys to traverse.”  –Helen Keller

Photo courtesy Noah Hamilton @

Look closely at the picture above you.  What strikes immediately is the powerful curtain of water folding, the aquamarine perfection of propulsion, the neon green of the trees, the one arm extended, the hair flying, the hunched low-gravity stance, the mouth ajar, the liquid bubbles rising just visible in the moving wall of wave, curving and hooking overhead.  Perhaps the fact that this is a woman, and beautiful, crouched deep in a big wave pocket usually reserved for men, makes this image so extraordinary.  Look again.  This is Bethany Hamilton, pro surfer.  She has only one arm.

Most of you probably already know the story.  Bethany was born on Kauai, Hawaii into a family of diehard surfers.  She grew up in the water, as comfortable on a surf board as most kids are on tricycles.  From a young age, she garnered attention for her radical style, her powerful cutbacks and her fearlessness in dropping waves double or triple her tiny frame.  With dreams of becoming a pro surfer, Bethany began competitively competing at the age of nine, that year winning the Haliewa Menehune Championships and continuing on to pick up several more trophies and a major sponsor Rip Curl.

Then in the fall of 2003, major floods hit the islands.  For 40 days it rained, with silt strained rivers pouring murky water into the ocean.  The first day the clouds broke, now 13 year old Bethany grabbed her board and paddled out into a uncrowded North shore swell.  It was Oct 31, 2003, a Halloween where most kids Bethany’s age were obsessing over their SpiderMan costumes.  Bethany was obsessing over the surf.

Not ten minutes into her session, a 14 foot tiger shark rose from the brackish water and ripped off her left arm, just below the shoulder.  It was a rare attack, the first in almost a decade on Kauai, and it was nearly fatal.  With the aid of her best friend’s family, Bethany made it back to shore, a surf leash used as temporary tourniquet to stop the hemorrhaging wound.  She spent 7 days in intensive care, loss 60% of her blood mass, and watched her dreams of pro surfing vanish as quickly as her arm in that shark’s teeth.

But Bethany is no ordinary girl.  The loss of normalcy didn’t concern her, nor did the instant celebrity that came from being a shark attack survivor, and one of the youngest at that.  All she ever wanted was to be in the ocean and all she ever desired was to be a great surfer.  She refused to let a fear of sharks, or even the impracticality of one arm stop her from achieving her dream.

So less than one month after the attack, Bethany pulled out her board and went surfing again.  And she hasn’t stopped since.  Today she is one of the top female surfers in the world, traveling the globe and competing in contests on the ASP pro circuit.  In 2008, in her very first competition against the best women surfers, she placed 3rd.  And the incredible part is she relies on no one in the water.  She’s never let her single arm serve as a handicap.  She paddles into every wave of any size herself (without pushes or jetski tow-in).  Anyone that has every attempted surfing knows how hard it is to catch a wave with both arms windmilling.  Imagine scratching for the dropping lip of Pipeline with only one.

Recently, Bethany hooked up with Nick Vujicic, the incredible public speaker who was born without limbs.  And what followed in my hometown surf spot of Queen’s beach, Waikiki is simply too inspiring for words…

Not only are those amazing people surfing together, they are ripping, in spite of their overwhelming physical disabilities.  Passion, positivity and the power of surf to heal and enliven knows no bounds.  Like the ocean, we are as fluid and free as we allow ourselves to be.  A man with no arms or legs hanging ten and doing 360 spins on the nose of a surfboard is a powerful symbol of the human spirit to overcome any obstacle.

And to do it all with a smile on his face… such is the marvelous richness of human experience.  Such is the rewarding joy.


[…] also had a crop of amazingly talented individuals overcoming the adversity of missing limbs.  Like Pro Surfer Bethany Hamilton and motivational speaker Nick […]

by Inspiration Information — Year in Review |Twin Ink on January 3, 2011 at 2:51 am. Reply #

My name is Kayli I am 10 years old I’m turning 11 in August.I read your book and watched your movie and I think that you are very courageous and inspirational. Every year for my birthday I ask to take a plane to Hawaii and see you.I dressed up like you for Halloween last have a very good website. One more thing,I heard that you were getting married so GOOD LUCK!!!!

by Kayli on July 29, 2013 at 6:40 pm. Reply #

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