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Bethany Hamilton
Bethany Hamilton surfing (sq cropped).jpg
Hamilton surfing in 2016
Bethany Meilani Hamilton

(1990-02-08) February 8, 1990 (age 34)
Adam Dirks
(m. 2013)
Children 4
Bethany Hamilton
Personal information
Residence Kauai, Hawaii, U.S.
Height 5 ft 11 in (180 cm)
Weight 154 lb (70 kg)
Surfing career
Best year 2016
Sponsors Rip Curl
Major achievements ESPY Award (2004)
NSSA National Helping Kids Champion (2005)
2nd place, ASP World Junior Championships (2008)
Surfing specifications
Stance Goofy

Bethany Meilani Hamilton (born February 8, 1990) is an American professional surfer and writer who survived a 2003 shark attack in which her left arm was bitten off and who ultimately returned to professional surfing. She wrote about her experience in the 2004 autobiography, Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board, which was adapted into the 2011 feature film, Soul Surfer, in which Hamilton attributes her strength to her Christian faith. Hamilton was also the subject of a 2018 documentary, Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable, which discusses her marriage to Adam Dirks and how marriage and motherhood have affected her professional surfing career.

Early life

Hamilton was born on February 8, 1990, to Tom and Cheri Hamilton in Lihue, Hawaii. She has two older brothers, Noah and Timothy. After learning how to surf at the age of three, Hamilton began surfing competitively at the age of eight and gained her first sponsorship by age 10. Hamilton was home-schooled from sixth grade through high school by her mother, a housewife, while her father was a waiter at a town café.

Shark attack and recovery

On October 31, 2003, 13-year-old Hamilton went for a morning surf along Tunnels Beach, Kauai, with her best friend, Alana Blanchard, as well as Alana's father and brother. While Hamilton was lying on her surfboard stomach-down and talking with Alana, a 14-foot-long (4.3 m) tiger shark attacked her. It swiftly bit off Hamilton's left arm, which was dangling in the water, just below the shoulder. The Blanchards helped paddle Hamilton back to shore, then Alana's father fashioned a tourniquet out of a rash guard and wrapped it around the stump of her arm. Hamilton was rushed to Wilcox Memorial Hospital. By the time she arrived there, Hamilton had lost over 60% of her blood and was in hypovolemic shock. Hamilton's father, who was scheduled to have knee surgery that same morning, was already there, but she took his place in the operating room with the same doctor.

Bethany Hamilton 20070311
Hamilton surfing in March 2007

When the news of the shark attack broke, a family of fishermen led by Ralph Young presented to investigators photos of a 14-foot-long (4.3 m) tiger shark they had caught and killed about one mile from the attack site. It had surfboard debris in its mouth. When measurements of its mouth were compared with those of Hamilton's broken board, it matched. In late 2004, police officially confirmed that it was the same one that had attacked her.

Despite the trauma of the incident, Hamilton was determined to return to surfing and did so a month later.

Initially, Hamilton adopted a custom-made board that was longer and slightly thicker than standard and had a handle for her right arm, making it easier to paddle, and Hamilton learned to kick more to make up for the loss of her left arm. After Hamilton taught herself to surf with one arm, she returned to surfing on November 26, 2003, just 26 days after the attack, and entered her first major competition on January 10, 2004. Hamilton now uses standard competitive performance short-boards. The shark-bitten surfboard that she was riding during the attack, as well as the swimsuit she was wearing, originally a gift from ocean photographer Aaron Chang, are on display at the California Surf Museum in Oceanside, California.


Since the attack, Hamilton has appeared as a guest on numerous television shows. Her manager, Roy "Dutch" Hofstetter, who went on to produce the film Soul Surfer, managed Hamilton's rise through the media from shark attack victim to inspirational role model. The television shows she has appeared on include The Amazing Race, The Biggest Loser, 20/20, Good Morning America, Inside Edition, The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, The Today Show, The Tonight Show and Dude Perfect, as well as in the magazines People, Time, and American Girl. Additionally, Hamilton was the cover story in the first issue of NiNe magazine.

Hamilton has participated in multiple public speaking events and is "motivating audiences worldwide to live their life with more tenacity, courage, and faith".

In 2004, Hamilton won the ESPY Award for Best Comeback Athlete and also received the Courage Teen Choice Award. That same year, MTV Books published Hamilton's book, Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board, which describes her ordeal. Hamilton's story is also told in the 2007 short subject documentary film Heart of a Soul Surfer. Described as a "faith-based documentary", the film addresses her devout Christianity and the courage and faith in Jesus Christ in the aftermath of the shark attack and follows her quest for spiritual meaning.

In 2009, Hamilton was a contestant on Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? and won $25,000. In 2010, she appeared on an episode of ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.

In 2011, Hamilton appeared in a video for the Christian organization I Am Second, telling of her struggle after the shark attack and how she trusted in God to get her through it. That same year, a feature film Soul Surfer, based on her 2004 book, was released in theaters. Hamilton was portrayed by actress AnnaSophia Robb. She performed all the one-armed surfing stunts in it.

Hamilton also appeared on the TLC series 19 Kids and Counting the same year, in the episode titled "Duggars Under the Sea", when the Duggar family visited her in Atlanta, Georgia.

Hamilton plays herself in the film Dolphin Tale 2, which revolves around the baby dolphin Hope's story. She and her husband, Adam Dirks, competed as a team on the 25th season of The Amazing Race, finishing in third place. It premiered in 2014 on CBS.

Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable is set to tell the story of Hamilton's transition from childhood to motherhood. "From chasing her toddler to chasing the biggest waves. Bethany is continuously rewriting the rules on being a fearless athlete and brings a new meaning to the phrase, 'Surf Like a Girl'".

Hamilton was featured in a short film by RipCurl titled Master and Apprentice alongside young female surfer Erin Brooks.

Personal life

In early 2012, Hamilton met youth minister Adam Dirks through mutual friends. They became engaged in 2013. The couple got married on August 18, 2013, at an estate on Kauai's north shore, near where Hamilton grew up. They have four children. Their marriage is featured throughout her documentary, Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable. Along with being a professional surfer, Hamilton now offers mentorship classes on faith, healing, personal health, and relationships. Hamilton is a Christian.


Hamilton has published nine books, and her mom has also published one about her story.

Book title Authors Year published Plot
Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board Bethany Hamilton, Rick Bundschuh, and Sheryl Berk 2004 Autobiography detailing the time leading up to the shark attack, how she recovered, dealt with media attention, and how she ultimately got back on the board and returned to competition
Devotions for the Soul Surfer Bethany Hamilton 2006, reprinted in 2011 Christian devotional book for young girls
Rise Above: A 90-day Devotional Bethany Hamilton 2007 Christian devotional for young girls discussing both "hot and cool topics that every young girl faces"
Ask Bethany: FAQs: Surfing, Faith, and Friends Bethany Hamilton 2007 Bethany answers questions discussing faith and how it has helped her throughout her life
Raising a Soul Surfer: One Family's Epic Tale Cheri Hamilton, Rick Bundschuh 2011 This book was written by Hamilton's Mom and provides the story of Bethany's shark attack through the perspective of her parents.
Body and Soul: A Girl's Guide to a Fit, Fun, and Fabulous Life Bethany Hamilton, Dustin Dillberg 2014 Provides readers with guidelines to become their healthiest self and practice a fit lifestyle. Includes workouts, healthy recipes, and tips for coping with stress
Ask Bethany: Bethany Answers Over 200 Questions from Girls Like You Bethany Hamilton, Doris Rikkers 2014, reprinted 2016 Bethany answers fan questions about "a wide variety of topics about her life and faith"
Be Unstoppable: The Art of Never Giving Up Bethany Hamilton 2018 In this book Bethany "inspires readers to be bold, enjoy life, and take risk of trusting God each day. Includes photos, inspiration quotes, and life lessons from Hamilton
Unstoppable Me Bethany Hamilton, Adam Dirks, illustrated by Gill Guile 2018 Children's book based on Bethany's story. It follows Makana the lion who enjoys surfing but loses her nerve after wiping out on the water. With the help of her friends she rediscovers her love for surfing.
Surfing Past Fear Bethany Hamilton, BRAVE BOOKS, illustrated by Martin Moròn 2022 Following an arm fracture, fellow beachgoers help Olivia overcome her concerns.

Outreach programs

Hamilton is involved in numerous charitable efforts, including her own foundation, Friends of Bethany, which reaches out to amputees and youth, encouraging them to overcome difficulties by offering hope through Jesus Christ. Using her platform as a professional athlete to promote living a fit and healthy lifestyle, Hamilton authored the book Body and Soul in 2014. In 2019, a surf documentary was made about her, Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable, which was accompanied by a photo book and a children's book.

Within the Friends of Bethany Foundation, there are four different programs:

  • Beautifully Flawed: retreat designed for young women ages 14–25 who have experienced traumatic limb loss. Six events hosted annually through this program which include: guests speakers, practical health and wellness tips which specifically account for limb loss, postural training, and surf lessons.
  • Shine Forth: Night filled with stories and inspiration to overcome, free community event to gather together and share comeback stories. Bethany also does a book signing at this event, which is hosted annually.
  • Anchored in Love: Conference for girls and young women ages 12 and up, one day event designed to help girls and young women discover their true beauty, purpose, and worth. Event is held annually in San Diego and features several guest speakers.
  • The Forge: Men's retreat where young male amputees come and focus on faith, fitness, and healthy living. This program is run by Bethany, her husband, and friend/mentor Mike Coots.

Surfing career

Placings in surf competitions
Year Event Place Country
1998 Rell Sunn Menehune 1st Australia
2002 Open Women's Division of the NSSA 1st U.S.
2004 NSSA National Competition 1st Australia
2005 NSSA National Competition 1st U.S.
2006 NSSA National Championship: 18-and-under Finalist 5th U.S.
2006 Hawaii Team Highlights 4th
2007 NSSA Regionals 1st U.S.
2007 T & C Pipeline Women's Pro 1st U.S.
2008 US Open of Surfing—Huntington Beach, California 5th U.S.
2008 Roxy Pro Surf Festival—Phillip Island 3rd Australia
2008 ASP's World Qualifying Series 14th
2009 Rio Surf International in Rio de Janeiro 3rd Brazil
2009 WSL's World Qualifying Series 14th Peru
2009 Billabong ASP World Junior Championship 2nd Australia
2009 World Cup Sunset Beach 13th U.S.
2010 Rip Curl Pro Portugal 9th Portugal
2011 Rip Curl Women's Pro Bells Beach 13th Australia
2012 Telstra Drug Aware Pro 9th Australia
2012 Rip Curl Cup Padang Padang Indonesia
2012 Swatch Girl's Pro France 37th France
2013 Supergirl Pro 9th U.S.
2014 Hurley Australian Open 37th Australia
2014 Surf 'n' Sea Pipeline Women's Pro 1st U.S.
2015 Swatch Women's Pro 13th U.S.
2016 Fiji Women's Pro 3rd Fiji
2016 Swatch Women's Pro 13th U.S.
2017 Wahine Pipe Pro 17th U.S.
2017 Outerknown Fiji Women's Pro 9th Fiji
2018 Surf Ranch Pro–Lemoore, CA 13th U.S.
2018 Beachwaver Maui Pro 13th U.S.
2020 Sydney Surf Pro 17th Australia
2021 Nissan Super Girl Surf Pro 33rd U.S.
2021 HIC Pipe Pro 13th U.S.
2022 Billabong Pro Pipeline 9th U.S.
2022 Priority Destinations Pro 4th U.S.

In January 2023, Hamilton announced that she would boycott all World Surf League events following their decision to allow transgender women to compete in the female category provided they maintain a testosterone level below 5nmol/L for 12 months prior. Hamilton questioned whether hormone levels were a fair and accurate assessment of sex, stating that transgender athletes should have a separate division created for them. She said that transgender women have a biological advantage that cisgender women do not, stating, "We are seeing glimpses of male-bodied dominance in women's sports like running, swimming and others." Hamilton said that she believes that many of the women currently on tour agree with her but are too afraid of being ostracized to speak out. Hamilton's stance received support from some but was criticized by others as transphobic.

See also

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