Bethany Hamilton's Horrific Accident And Life After

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Bethany Hamilton was born to surf. At 13, Hamilton almost lost her life and suffered what could have been a career-ending injury when she lost her left arm to a tiger shark while tackling the waves in Hawaii in 2003. The attack made headlines around the world, but what made even bigger news was Hamilton's resilience and her determination to become a professional surfer despite losing her arm. Hamilton became a media sensation, and her story impacted millions of people who saw Hamilton as an example of courage, hope, and never giving up on your dreams.

The horrific shark attack completely changed Hamilton's life. However, she's gone on to do incredible things, including having an impressive professional surfing career, which she still does today! After 20 years, Hamilton's story still resonates with people, and she's tackling other things more significant than waves, including being a wife and a mother. Here's a look at the dedicated surfer's life after the shark attack and what she's been up to since that day. 

A closer look at what happened on the day Hamilton lost her arm to a shark

On October 31, 2003, 13-year-old Bethany Hamilton went out with her best friend Alana Blanchard and Alana's father to surf the waters off Kauai's North Shore in Hawaii. Hamilton was lying on her surfboard with her left arm dangling in the water when a shark approached her and attacked her. The shark, which was later learned to be a 14-foot-long tiger shark, bit off Hamilton's left arm. Hamilton made it to shore, where Alana's father applied a tourniquet on her arm. She had lost 60% of her blood when she was rushed to the hospital. According to CBS News, doctors shared that Hamilton survived the ordeal because of her athleticism and ability to handle losing so much blood.

Hamilton was already making a name for herself in the surf world before the attack. CBS News reported that she had sponsorships and had won two surfing competitions in the women's division. After the accident, people were skeptical about her career as a pro surfer. But she would prove them all wrong. Years later, she looked at the attack as a blessing in disguise. "Looking in hindsight, I see all the beauty and good that's come from the loss of my arm that I wouldn't change life to be how I think it should be, but rather just embracing life as it is," she told CNN.

She got back on her surfboard a month later

Losing her left arm did not discourage Bethany Hamilton from continuing her dreams of surfing. According to her website, Hamilton was back in the water and surfing just a month after the shark attack. "The greatest challenge since the accident is getting on my board," Hamilton shared in an interview shortly after the attack, adding, "I'm definitely getting more used to it, but at first, it was hard. I continue to surf because I love it. I would encourage others to take up surfing because it's a way to get good exercise, it's a fun sport, and it's not that dangerous."

Hamilton's life didn't stop because she lost a limb, and sharks certainly weren't going to scare her away, although many people wouldn't dare return to the same place where they encountered a tragic event, especially where tiger sharks lurked. Talking to The Guardian, she shared, "Even though I have been attacked, my fear of losing surfing was greater than my fear of sharks."

Even more amazing, the California Surf Museum shared that fishermen later found the shark allegedly involved in the attack. Moreover, when they compared the shark's jaws to the bite marks on her surfboard, they were identical. 

She quickly became a media sensation

Bethany Hamilton's story spread like wildfire. However, her bravery and determination to go back and surf, and later surf competitively, made her a huge inspiration. Hamilton appeared on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," where she recalled that fateful day, telling the host that she never experienced any pain when the tiger shark bit off her limb. According to Surfer Magazine, Hamilton told her story on "20/20," "Good Morning America," and "The Today Show." She would later get her first book deal at 14. Her autobiography, "Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family and Fighting to Get Back on the Board," was released in 2006 and discussed the fatal attack, how she had to navigate a new surf style, and how her faith played a significant role in never giving up.

Ten years after her initial interview with Winfrey, she appeared on the host's show "Oprah: Where Are The Now?" and shared that she had no idea just how influential she would become, even admitting that she didn't even know how famous Winfrey was at the time. "I was just a young girl from Hawaii, like stoked to share my book 'Soul Surfer' at the time. I don't think I realized that my life would have such a huge impact on so many people all over the world."

Hamilton became a professional surfer

Bethany Hamilton had to learn a new way to ride the waves if she was going to live out her dreams of becoming a professional surfer. She shared with Surfer Magazine, "It's a matter of your whole body composition. For a while, I wasn't really good at long, drawn-out frontside turns ... When I put time into it and worked on it more, it was fine. With all of surfing, you could probably pull almost anything off with no arms. It's all in your hips and shoulders and your head."

Her biography notes that Hamilton placed first in the NSSA National Championship: 18-and-under and the O'Neill Island Girl Junor Pro two years after the attack. At 18, Hamilton was competing as a full-time surfer for the first time. In 2008, she placed third at the Roxy Pro in Australia; in 2014, she nabbed first place at the Surf N Sea Pipeline Pro. In 2016, Hamilton surfed in the Fiji Pro Women's competition as a wildcard. According to The Washington Post, she placed third and beat out the No.1 ranked women surfer in the world, Tyler Wright. 

Hamilton continues to surf, and in 2022, her biography states that she took 9th place at the Billabong Pipeline Pro women's event.

Bethany's story was made into a movie

In 2011, the movie "Soul Surfer" was released based on Bethany Hamilton's 2004 autobiography of the same name. Actor AnnaSophia Robb, who is best known for her roles in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and "The Carrie Diaries," played Hamilton. In fact, it was Hamilton who requested Robb portray her. "She was actually my suggestion, the surfer said in an interview, adding, "She visited me in Hawaii, and my surf coach and I taught her how to surf, so she at least looked like she knew what she was doing! And now we're really good friends." The movie's supporting cast consisted of actors Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt, who played Hamilton's parents, and Kevin Sorbo and Carrie Underwood. 

During an interview with the Santa Monica Mirror, Hamilton shared that she was happy with the film's outcome and how accurately it portrayed the day she lost her arm to the shark. However, she expressed displeasure with how the media sensationalized the horrific accident. "The media can be challenging, but at the same time, without the media, I would not have been able to share my personal story," the pro surfer expressed. In 2018, Hamilton released the documentary "Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable," which showcased how Hamilton's accident affected her life in more ways than just her surfing career.

She became a motivational speaker

Bethany Hamilton became an inspiration to people around the world and used her experience to become a motivational speaker. One of her many speeches included speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., by former President Barack Obama in 2014. According to Surfer Today, Hamilton touched upon her faith and how it helped her find the courage to surf again and go pro. "As you look at me, you could think, 'Wow, have pity on her; she lost her arm to a shark.' But I look [at] it as something beautiful. God has taken something awful and turned it into something incredibly amazing,'" Hamilton said.

In 2022, Hamilton participated in a Masterclass on motivation. Hamilton gave tips on surfing, which included letting go of being intimidated by the ocean. She spoke about ways to keep yourself motivated with a healthy diet and good sleep and how important it is to move your body and learn balance, especially for someone interested in surfing. Talking about her goals for surfing, she shared, "Just continually have fun out there. I want to keep pushing it out there and just keep inspiring girls to do their best." 

According to her website, Hamilton continues to speak at public events sharing her story and how her faith has helped her overcome many obstacles. 

She married Adam Dirks in 2013

Professional surfer Bethany Hamilton became engaged to Christian youth minister Adam Dirks in May 2013. Gushing about that day, she shared with People, "We hiked to our favorite quiet beach, munched on lunch, and hung out. Then we went for a walk to a beautiful garden behind the beach. As we were walking, we found two coconuts, my favorite thing to drink, which accompanied the ring."

In August 2013, the two wed in Kauai, Hawaii, in front of 300 guests. It also marked ten years since her shark attack. Hamilton shared how excited she was to spend her life with someone who enjoyed a life of thrill just like her. "[Adam] and I love to live healthy, active lifestyles, and we hope to share that with others. I'm excited to go on some adventures with him as well," Hamilton said (via People).

In a video of the pair discussing how they met, Hamilton dished on Dirks' awkward phone message to meet for the first time, their engagement, and their wedding day. Dirks gushed that getting married to Hamilton was "the best day of our lives."

They welcomed three children

Less than a year after Bethany Hamilton and Adam Dirks wed, the couple announced they were expecting their first child. Their son, Tobias, was born in June 2015, with the pro surfer sharing the news on her Instagram. The couple welcomed a second son named Wesley in March 2018 and became a family of five when she gave birth to their third son, Micah, on Valentine's Day in 2021. 

In April 2021, Hamilton opened up to her Instagram followers about keeping up with three boys with one arm. After having her son Micah, she shared that the "tricks and adaptations are getting better with each child," adding, "I use my feet to help with diaper changing, lots of pillows with nursing, a baby carrier all throughout the day and tricky styles of holding to keep the baby's head up. Sometimes it can get frustrating, but I just gotta keep moving forward, having lil' breaks, and keep it positive!"

The couple competed in the Amazing Race

In 2014, Bethany Hamilton and her husband, Adam Dirks, participated in the 25th season of CBS' "The Amazing Race." The Emmy award-winning show takes teams of two on global challenges that are both mental and physical. Luckily, Hamilton and Dirks already had a great connection as husband and wife. They became one of the most memorable teams after coming in third place.  

Speaking with Young Hollywood about her experience, Hamilton shared that she had a great time getting to do the show with Dirks and had wanted to compete for quite some time. "I think we kind of went into the race knowing that, like, okay, let's not like blame each other, get upset with each other but to realize that it's the situation that's stressful ... It was amazing to be able to race with my best friend and my husband."

Besides starring in "The Amazing Race," Hamilton has also been seen on "The Biggest Loser," "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?," and "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition."

Hamilton was inducted into the Surfers' Hall of Fame

In August 2017, Bethany Hamilton was inducted into the Surfers' Hall of Fame. According to the Daily Pilot, the professional surfer wrote "Always Hope" while also having her hand, feet, and name imprinted in cement outside the Huntington Surf and Sport store in Huntington Beach, California. During her speech, Hamilton shared, "Hope is such a key thing you need in life to get past tough times. Surfing has brought me a lot of hope. It's been a fun journey." Other big-named surfers who have cemented their names include Kelly Slater and Stephanie Gillmore. 

The year before Hamilton was inducted, she was nominated for "Best Female Athlete with a Disability" at the ESPYs, an award show that honors the best athletes in their sport. However, the surfer told NPR that she had decided to withdraw her name. The term "disabled" didn't sit right with Hamilton, and instead, she encouraged the award show to rename the category to "Best Adaptive Athlete." "I have so much respect for all the people in that category, and who received that award, but I just — to me, the word 'disabled' does not match my life, and who I am, and what I've accomplished and the way I go about every single day," she said. 

Her documentary focuses on motherhood

Bethany Hamilton's movie "Soul Surfer," tells the story of the surfer as a young girl after the shark attack. Still, to get to know the real professional surfer, Hamilton released the 2018 documentary "Unstoppable: Bethany Hamilton." Not only does the film discuss the accident, but it also touches on her return to the waves to become one of the most recognized surfers in the world and how her life changed when she became a wife and mother.

Upon its premiere, Hamilton opened up to People about motherhood and how she and her husband, Adam Dirks, found out that she was pregnant with their first son sooner than they had expected. "It was a hard time in my life, just embracing motherhood. I think a lot of women struggle with it, so I thought it was really important to share the truth of that. I had a lot of fears entering motherhood; I didn't know what life would look like after," she said. 

Hamilton has since mastered motherhood. After having her third son, Micah, in February 2021, Hamilton was back on her board by that July. She posted a video of herself on her surfboard to Instagram and shared, "It's been hard to get in the water much and even the gym. So I'm just thankful for any fun I can get in the waves! Mama still got it." 

She's a published author

Besides her 2004 autobiography, "Soul Surfer," Bethany Hamilton has also written books for young readers about faith, courage, and family. Her biography notes that her book "Soul Surfer Devotions" is about "stories of women to admire, prayers to focus on, and wipeouts to avoid." She has also written a Soul Surfer fiction series, "Rise Above: A 90-Day Devotional," "Ask Bethany," and a children's book titled "Unstoppable Me," with her husband.

In 2022, Hamilton unveiled another children's book, "Surfing Past Fear." The book tells the story of Olivia, the otter who breaks her arm and fears she can never surf that summer. However, with the help of a few friends, she faces those fears and gets back into the water. Sharing more details about her book on Instagram, Hamilton wrote alongside a photo of her family on the beach, "I'm totally PUMPED to be able to provide an awesome, truly kid-friendly book that encourages children to have a spirit of resiliency and overcoming fear — a message that I'm so passionate about!!"

You can see her surfboard on display at the California Surf Museum

In 2011, the California Surf Museum dedicated an exhibit to Bethany Hamilton's remarkable story and accomplishments. The exhibit was featured during the same time her "Soul Surfer" movie was hitting theaters. On display at the museum are Hamilton's two-piece bathing suit and the surfboard she used on the day of the shark attack in 2003. The board features a shark bite that measures 15 inches wide and eight inches deep, and her bathing suit, which artist Aaron Chang created, features the silhouette of pro surfer Bill Hamilton. And, no, they are not related. The exhibit has been one of the museum's most popular, and that's no surprise.

Hamilton's drive to get back into the water, learn to surf with one arm, and win competitions makes her story one-of-a-kind. Her passion for surfing outweighed any fear of another shark attack. She told NPR in 2019, "It's like my form of art and creativity, and it's a place ... I'm completely immersed in what I'm doing, and there's nothing kind of holding me back or distracting me. I'm just enjoying this beautiful ride."

She wants to help mothers and daughters reconnect with her mentorship program

In December 2021, Bethany Hamilton launched the 'Ohana Mother-Daughter Experience, a mentorship program for mothers and daughters to connect and build stronger bonds. In an Instagram post, Hamilton shared that she relied heavily on her mother when she lost her arm to a shark and wants others to be able to do the same when they face adversity. "I really cherish being an encouragement to so many people, but especially for teenage girls in particular because I remember how hard it was for me," she wrote, adding, "When times became rough, and especially when I lost my arm, I was able to lean on my mom who encouraged me to trust in the Lord."

According to Hamilton's website, the program is a 90-day mentorship for mothers and daughters ages 10 to 18 that includes weekly Zoom sessions with the professional surfer on deepening mother-daughter relationships. After these sessions, they get a chance to meet Hamilton in Hawaii during an exclusive three-night retreat that includes surfing with Hamilton!