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Bethany Hamilton Lost Her Left Arm During a Shark Attack and Still Became a Surfing Champion

Updated on September 14, 2017
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Readmikenow likes sports, both professional and amateur. He especially likes sports stories of courage and overcoming adversity.

Bethany Hamilton surfing
Bethany Hamilton surfing

Bethany Hamilton had a love of surfing at an early age. As she grew up in Kauai, Hawaii, her parents had low-wage jobs so they could spend more time surfing. When Hamilton was eight-years-old, she competed in her first surfing competition. At the age of nine, Hamilton had her first surfing sponsor called Rip Curl. The following years, she competed in a variety of surfing events. When she was 13, Hamilton placed second in the National Scholastic Surfing Association (NSSA) national championships. Many people in the world of professional surfing agreed she had a very promising career ahead of her.

Bethany Hamilton in hospital after shark attack
Bethany Hamilton in hospital after shark attack

Shark Attack

The attack occurred on October 31, 2003, when Hamilton was 13. It was a nice day, and she was enjoying surfing with her best friend, Alana Blanchard. The attack happened so quickly; Hamilton didn't immediately realize anything was wrong. She remembers that while on her surf board; she saw a gray flash. She then felt a strong tug on her left arm. When she looked down, there was bright red all around her in the water. Hamilton realized her left arm was no longer there and a piece of her surfboard was gone. Suffering from shock, she calmly told her friend she believed she had just been attacked by a shark. Hamilton then began paddling towards the shore with one arm. When she got there, her father saw what had happened. He used a surf leash to apply a tourniquet. Hamilton was quickly rushed to the hospital. When she got there, Hamilton had lost more than 60 percent of her body's blood. She was in Hypovolemic shock. Hamilton was in the hospital for over a week before being released. Fishermen from the local area caught the 14-foot tiger shark that attacked her. It still had bits of Hamilton's surfboard in its mouth.


Hamilton knew the shark attack would forever change her life. Many people told her being a professional surfer was no longer possible. Hamilton refused to believe anyone who told her this. She was determined to once again become a professional surfer. A month after being attacked by a 14-foot tiger shark, Hamilton returned to surfing. She was given a special surf board that was custom-made just for her. It was thicker as well as a little longer than a standard surfboard. Her surf board also had a handle for her right arm. This made it easier for her to paddle the board. Hamilton taught herself to kick more to compensate for the loss of her left arm. She regularly practiced surfing with one arm. Less than a year after being attacked by the shark, Hamilton entered a major surfing competition on January 10, 2004.

Bethany Hamilton with championship awards
Bethany Hamilton with championship awards

Surfing Championships

Hamilton came in first place in the NSSA National Competition in 2004 and 2005. In 2005, Hamilton also won the O'Neill Island Girl Junior Pro Tournament. In 2007, she won the T & C Pipeline Women's Pro competition. In 2014, she came in first at the Surf n' Sea Pipeline Pro competition and in 2015 she won the Swatch Women's Pro competition.


Hamilton was given an ESPY Award in 2004 for Best Comeback Athlete. This award recognizes team as well as individual athletic achievement for their sports-related performances. An ESPY Award winner is determined by the voting of fans. Sportswriters, sports executives, as well as broadcasters as well as ESPN personalities. During this same year, Hamilton was given a Courage Teen Choice Award. This award is voted on by individuals aged 13 to 19.

Bethany Hamilton being inducted into Surfers Hall of Fame
Bethany Hamilton being inducted into Surfers Hall of Fame

Surfing Hall of Fame

Hamilton was inducted into the Surfer's Hall of Fame during August of 2017. Surfer's Hall of Fame is located in Huntington Beach, California. She was given the award and able to place her feet and hand in cement as well as write a special message in the cement.

Bethany Hamilton being interviewed
Bethany Hamilton being interviewed


Hamilton's story captivated the media. Her tenacity to return to surfing so soon after a shark attack got Hamilton national media attention. She didn't like being interviewed and thought dealing with the media was boring, and it got in the way of her surfing. When Hamilton realized her story could inspire others, she decided to try and tell it as often as possible. She appeared on Good Morning America, The Tonight show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, Inside Edition as well as The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Hamilton's story was also told in a number of magazines including Time, People, American Girl and others.

Book "Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board.”
Book "Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board.”


In 2004, a book about Hamilton's life was published. Its title is “Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board.” It covers the shark attack and the many adjustments Hamilton had to make in her life. It also describes her belief in God and her spiritual courage.


A movie also called “Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board,” was released during 2011. It was filmed in Hawaii during early 2010. Other filming also took place in Tahiti. The movie received mixed review but was a commercial success.

Unstoppable documentary
Unstoppable documentary


A documentary about Hamilton's life called “Unstoppable” is scheduled to be released in 2018. It will cover her accident and return to surfing but also cover her performance during the World Surfing League (WSL) competition. Hamilton came in third in the Fiji Women's Pro Competition. During this event, she was able to defeat a six-time world champion as well as the top-ranked female surfer in the world. It will also cover her performance in the wave of Jaws in Maui. Her performance there earned Hamilton her first WSL Big Wave award.

Bethany Hamilton wedding day
Bethany Hamilton wedding day


Hamilton met a youth minister named Adam Dirks in 2012. The two were engaged in April 2013 and got married on August 18, 2013. Over 290 friends and family attended their wedding ceremony. It took place on Kauai's north shore in Hawaii where Hamilton grew up. Shortly after getting married, Hamilton and her husband competed on the reality show “Amazing Race,” and finished in the top 3. During June of 2015, Hamilton gave birth to a son the couple named Tobias.

Bethany Hamilton with husband and son
Bethany Hamilton with husband and son


Hamilton says she is able to continue with her surfing competitions as well as media appearances because of her family support system. She credits her husband for making it all possible. He does so many things and cheers her on when it’s needed. Hamilton credits trusting God for getting her through everything that has happened in her life.


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