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Soul Surfer Bethany Hamilton Says One Arm is Better Than Two

Updated on August 31, 2011

Bethany's new movie chronicles her life

I just saw the movie Soul Surfer yesterday about the life of professional surfer Bethany Hamilton whose arm was bitten off by a 14-foot, 1,400 pound tiger shark on Halloween morning in 2003 when she was only 13 years old.

One of the most moving parts of the movie was near the end when she was asked by a reporter if she could do it over, would she have refrained from going into the water that fateful day? She replied unhesitatingly that she would still have gone out because she has been able to embrace many more people with one arm than she ever could have with two.

What she meant, of course, is that her story has reached all over the world and touched and influenced many lives that likely would never have heard of her had she just become a professional surfer with the usual two good arms. She has been a great encouragement to many other people who have lost limbs and to people with other disabilities as well.

Bethany surfing through a "tube" also referred to as the "green room" by surfers
Bethany surfing through a "tube" also referred to as the "green room" by surfers

The movie fairly accurately depicts life in Hawaii

I thought the movie was well done. Maybe it’s not one of the biggest budget movies, but so what? The story line is great and, as presented, entirely believable. Since I live in Hawaii, I was very interested to see if “real life” in Hawaii would be presented accurately, since many shows filmed in Hawaii have often not done that.

I thought that the real Hawaii was depicted well except for one thing: There were too many white people! I am a white person living in Hawaii, but white people are in the minority here. At least, that’s how it is here on Oahu where I live. I have no idea about Kauai since I’ve never been there but I would expect all the other Hawaiian Islands to be similarly racially populated as Oahu. I have been to the Big Island (Hawaii) and Maui and you can be sure that white people are a minority on those islands.

Other than that, I thought the movie was realistically presented. One example of this is how the scenes when Bethany is at church depicted how everything in Hawaii is so casual and in the open air. I also thought the beach and surf culture was well presented though I’m no authority on that since I’m really not much of an outdoors type of person (that’s probably a sacrilegious confession for a kamaaina [local person]).

Bethany and her movie self Anna Sophia Robb
Bethany and her movie self Anna Sophia Robb

Their Christian faith is very important to the Hamiltons

I was pleased the movie did not try to subdue the importance of the Christian faith in the lives of the Hamiltons. Christianity has gotten too much bad press in recent years and too many people in this country have never had the opportunity to see the wonderful transformation that Christianity can make in a person’s life when it is lived with humility, simplicity, and sincerity.

Celebrities routinely badmouth biblical Christianity while glossing over radical Islam’s atrocities. This movie had bonafide celebrities in Dennis Quaid as her father, Helen Hunt as her mother and Carrie Underwood as her church youth leader.

Bethany and her family were permitted to provide considerable input into the making of the movie. Bethany requested that the young actress Anna Sophia Robb be chosen to play her and her request was granted. A scene where Dennis Quaid as her dad was seen holding a Holy Bible initially had the words “Holy Bible” digitally erased but later reinserted per request of her dad. The Hamilton’s also had a lot of say in other parts of the movie, too.

Bethany doing some cool surf moves

The Hamilton family has indicated that they are pleased with the way the movie turned out and that it was a truthful representation of the facts in the main.

However, a few fictional elements were inserted such as the antagonist surfing competitor to Bethany, Malina Birch, played by local actress Sonya Balmores Chung who is a real life friend of Bethany’s.

Bethany showed great maturity when she was attacked by the shark in 2003. She showed clear thinking and coolheadedness when she made the decision to remain calm and not scream, a personal characteristic which undoubtedly helped save her life and is most likely a significant factor in her ability to successfully compete at surfing professionally.

Within weeks of the accident Bethany returned to surfing, but she initially struggled in a way people would not have expected. On her very first day back in the water she was able to stand up on the board and ride the waves as she had always done. The struggle she encountered was in being able to paddle quickly out to the place right before the waves begin to break because the competing surfers have to jockey for the best waves.

Her dad solved this problem by designing a special surfboard for her with a “handle” to enable her to ride the board out while going through rough breaking waves in a way that would be analogous to riding a horse with a western saddle that has a horn to hold on to when the horse begins to buck or jump. When asked by one interviewer how she overcame the fear of getting back in the water, she replied that if she did not go back to surfing she would be in a bad mood the rest of her life.

One of my questions while I was watching the movie was how the actress playing Bethany was made to appear as having only one arm. I had read that Bethany acted as the stunts person and did the actual surfing scenes in the movie because Anna Sophia Robb had never surfed before. Nevertheless, there were many scenes in which close ups of Robb on dry land revealed a missing left arm.

The answer, I discovered, was that Robb’s left arm was digitally removed from the film. She was also given a prosthetic “stump” to look like the stump of an arm that remains where Bethany’s arm was. It seems there is nothing that technology cannot achieve nowadays!

The movie ends with Bethany getting back into surfing competitions but not yet as a winner.  In real life, Bethany won her first national title in California the following year.  She turned pro in 2007 and today travels all over the world to participate in up to a dozen surfing contests a year.  She is currently considered one of the top 10 females surfers in the world.  She also fits speaking engagements in between competition and training.

Previous to the making of the movie, Bethany told her story in a book entitled Soul Surfer:  A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board published in 2004.  A documentary about her was also made in 2007 entitled “Heart of a Soul Surfer.”


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      Cami 6 years ago

      I love Bethany Hamilton i wanted to try to surf but I was always scared to get bit by a shark but once I saw soul surfer and Bethany got back in the water I took my moms advise and believed that getting bit by a shark is a one in a million chance.You are amazing,you gave me hope,encouragement , and belief.I LOVE U!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • BooksGalore profile image

      BooksGalore 6 years ago from Hawaii

      Hi Madison,

      Paragraph two of my article explains why Bethany says one arm is better than two--it's because she was able to help many more people with one arm when they heard about her story. She has also been able to meet many more people and her story has been an inspiration to so many people and it has brought her so many more friends than she ever had before.

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      Madison 6 years ago

      I love the showings that you put on there and I know this writing is werid that is how it jest terned out like this and I love your movie and I love it so much I have it on dvd and some of my writing is wrog but I am 7 yeays old and so and why do you think having one arm is berter than two arms or are they jest doing that like they do and I do not like when they lie but I love the look you have and I love that you are alive and okey love madison and so I love you so much and so I hope you have fun out there with one arm and have fun and I love you and your family and have good night sieep love madison lee cole and my nick name is maddie or maddy by