Bethany Hamilton: No Matter What Happens, “Get Back Up on the Board”

The awe-inspiring surfer talks to HelloGiggles about motherhood, motivational speaking, and her new book.

The first movie I ever went to see was “Jaws 3.” I was 5-years old. My dad was a movie buff and mom wasn’t, so I quickly became his popcorn-munching partner. Some might think a movie about killer sharks is a little scary for a toddler, but at least it was fictional — and I knew it.

If you think about the most fear-inducing and terrifying situation that could happen to a person, shark attack likely ranks at the top of the list. Now imagine that it’s happening to your child. Shark attacks, while rare, do occur. There were 73 attacks in 2021 alone, according to PetPedia. The odds of it happening to you are just 1 in 3,748,067.

Professional surfer Bethany Hamilton was just 13-years old, when a 14-foot tiger shark bit off her left arm. After losing 60 percent of her blood and going into shock, she not only survived, but was back up on the surfboard just one month later. Within two years, she beat the odds by winning a national surfing competition — with just one arm. Hamilton made history, as the first person ever, to do so.

RELATED: This Surfer Went for an Insanely Large Wave, and it’s Almost too Scary to Watch

Now, at 32-years-old, Hamilton is inspiring people all over the world. She was the inspiration for the 2013 blockbuster movie “Soul Surfer,” and the 2018 documentary “Unstoppable.” Generations know her, whether you remember her story from the news, or saw the movie that was released ten years later.

I had the chance to chat with the surfer one-on-one about motherhood, motivational speaking, her new book and getting “back on the board.” It was 1 p.m. on a Tuesday (Hawaii time) and she appeared for our Zoom interview with her long blonde locks still wet from a jaunt in the water. “Oh, I’m a total mermaid, I’m in the water everyday, and I was just surfing a little while ago so my hair’s still wet,” she said with a chuckle.

Facing Fears

The native Hawaiian, who says she grew up with the ocean outside her door, recounts that fateful day in 2003, when it all changed for her. After recovering from her attack, when most people would probably never dip a toe in the ocean again, all she could think about was getting back out there. “I remember thinking that I never knew if anyone had surfed with one arm before, or if it was even possible. I was really scared, but I knew I had to try.”

It was her first real (and hard) lesson in adapting, and it’s a message she carries with her today. “In my motivational speaking, I talk a lot about adapting,” she shares. “We all have to adapt throughout our lives and figure out how to do things differently, when things change. I’m always adapting and figuring out how to do things with one arm. It’s constant.” Hamilton shares videos on social media related to the many challenges that come with missing a limb — but it doesn’t seem to slow her down at all.

“When I lost my arm, I could have gone into a downward spiral. It wasn’t always easy and I had some really rough days, but gratitude and being grateful for what I do have, keeps me focused.”

The devout Christian also explains that her faith has helped her get through.

Being A Mom

These days, the mom-of-three (whose kids all surf, naturally), is keeping busy with a mentorship program for moms and tween/teen girls called Ohana, which stands for the familial bond that all Hawaiians share, and a new children’s book called “Surfing Past Fear” (Brave Books, 2022).

“‘Surfing Past Fear’ teaches kids to be resilient and adaptable, and overcome fear, when life isn’t perfect,” the author explains. “How am I being an example for my children when dealing with fear and scary moments? It’s an amazing tool for parents to start the conversation around fear and doubts,” she says.

With three kids ages 7, 4 and 1, with youth minister husband Adam Dirks (the duo married in 2013 and appeared together in 2014 on CBS’ Amazing Race), Hamilton is hoping to inspire other moms to engage in a little more self-care.

“Not very many mamas are out there competing at my level, and I’m here to remind women if you keep taking care of yourself, you can keep having fun,” says Hamilton. That’s just one of the many great takeaways this awe-inspiring mom shares.

Staying Motivated

So what keeps her motivated? “I really like music so music motivates me, and I’m always thinking of ways to better myself, so I can better love and support the people around me.” And if something does go wrong in your life, Hamilton says, do like she did, and just get back on the board.

Jené Luciani Sena
Jené Luciani Sena is an accredited journalist and internationally-renowned bestselling author, regularly seen on national TV outlets such as Access Daily, Today and Dr Oz. Touted as one of Woman’s World Magazine’s “Ultimate Experts,” she’s a TEDTalk speaker and a busy Mom of 4. Read more
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