Soul Surfer – The Story of Bethany Hamilton


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Bethany Hamilton’s Triumphant Return to Surfing

Soul Surfer (2011) is the story of Bethany Hamilton and her recovery from a 2003 shark attack in which she lost her left arm at the age of thirteen. The movie is based on Hamilton’s memoir Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board.

Set in Hawaii, the film opens with home movie footage of Hamilton as a child on the beach with her family, surfing, and playing ukulele with her friend Alana Blanchard. Then the movie jumps to present day, with Bethany in the water on her surfboard before being called to the beach by her brother to attend church with her family. At the service in a big tent next to the ocean, they are greeted by Sarah Hill, a church youth leader who becomes an influential person in Hamilton’s life.

After a brief scene of Hamilton’s parents surfing together, the movie shifts to its first surfing competition. Hamilton and Blanchard, who aspire to be professional surfers, have both entered the contest, as is Malina Birch, a rival. Hamilton wins the competition, while Birch is second and Blanchard is third. Afterwards, Hamilton and Blanchard learn that Rip Curl, a surfing swimwear manufacturer, wants to sponsor them as pro surfers. At this point, life couldn’t be better for the two girls as they’re living the surfing dream.

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Contributing author: Mark Long

Real Life, Reel Differences

  • Bethany Hamilton is almost six feet tall (5’ 11”), but AnnaSophia Robb is only five feet tall. However, most of the footage in the movie of Hamilton’s character surfing after the accident was done by Hamilton herself.
  • Rip Curl decides to sponsor Hamilton after the first surfing competition in the movie when she was thirteen. However, Rip Curl actually began sponsoring her in 2009 when she was only nine.
  • While Hamilton and Blanchard went night surfing the night before the shark attack, it was not the first time they had done so.
  • The shark is shown in the movie attacking Hamilton, but in actuality, nobody saw it happen. Instead, Hamilton said she felt a couple of hard tugs on her arm as it was in the water, and immediately knew what had happened.


  • Tom Hamilton did not drive through bushes/hedges at their house to escape reporters. Instead, Hamilton stayed with friends for a while after leaving the hospital due to all the media attention.
  • Although Blanchard did travel to Thailand after the 2004 tsunami, there was no one moment where she got a mute, orphan boy out on a surfboard. Instead, she told her story to raise awareness of physical challenges and helped disabled children learn to be less afraid of the water.
  • In the movie, Malina Birch is Hamilton’s nemesis. However, this was a composite character based on multiple surfers, not just one. In addition, while Hamilton did place fifth in the last competition depicted in the movie, her friend Alana Blanchard did not run into another surfer.
  • Despite her frustration with her performance upon returning to her first surfing contest, Hamilton did not give her surfboards away in the parking lot after it was over.

Where Are They Now?

Bethany Hamilton became a successful pro surfer and is still surfing today as a Rip Curl team member. In 2004 she received an ESPY for “Best Comeback Athlete” from ESPN. She married youth pastor Adam Dirks in 2013. They were on the twenty-fifth season of The Amazing Race in 2014 and finished third. Also in 2014, she won the Surf ‘n Sea Pipeline Pro on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii. She gave birth to their son Tobias in 2015.

Bethany has a well-maintained website and is active on Twitter (308,000 followers as of June 2016), Instagram (1.4 million followers as of June 2016), and Facebook (2.2 million likes as of June 2016). Here is an interview with Hamilton shortly after the shark attack, and below is a short interview with her about the making of Soul Surfer:

Alana Blanchard is also a professional surfer for Rip Curl and a model. She has her own Rip Curl clothing line, Alana’s Closet. She and Hamilton, working with Rip Curl and Hanalei Surf Company, host the annual Bethany and Alana Keiki Classic in Hawaii. (2016 marked its third year.) The surf competition is a free event for male and female surfers 14 years old and younger. Her website, isn’t as well developed as Hamilton’s, but she is active on Twitter (183,000 followers as of June 2016), Instagram (1.7 million followers as of June 2016), and Facebook (2.1 million likes as of June 2016)

Sarah Hill is still a youth minister, pastor, and speaker based in Hawaii. Although her website hasn’t been updated in a year, she is active on Twitter (3,500 followers as of June 2016) and Facebook (3,600 likes as of June 2016).

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