We really don't need another reason to admire surfer Bethany Hamilton. Her never-give-up attitude is the stuff of Hollywood scripts. The movie Soul Surfer, about her amazing comeback to surfing after losing her arm to a shark attack, has not only defied critics and netted a tidy profit, it's also earned her a new generation of admirers.
Many of her biggest fans are fighting their own battles. In the case of eight-year-old Kendall Curnuck, sadly, it's the life-threatening kind. The tiny little dancer from New York recently spent months enduring debilitating chemotherapy after being diagnosed with leukemia in January of 2010.
Since seeing the movie about Bethany's struggle, however, Kendall has had little problem finding the courage needed in her ongoing battle. And she got an extra dose of inspiration when Hamilton and the Make A Wish foundation sent Kendall and her family to Hawaii for a personal surf lesson. The whole thing was caught by ESPN cameras for their beautifully executed My Wish campaign. See for yourself.
The Rip Curl Pro at fabled Bells Beach, Australia, is through three rounds and guess who's in position to post yet another ASP World Tour victory?
That's right, Kelly Slater, the 10-time and defending world champion who is looking to go 2-0 on the season and has a long history of success at Bells, winning the event last year and four times overall.
Though he prevailed in a lackluster third-round heat against Stu Kennedy, that was largely because of inconsistent surf.
"I thought that there would be some sets later in the heat, but nothing came," Slater said. "It was just one of those heats, I've had a whole lot like that out here, sometimes there are long lulls. I can't do much worse than that and make it through a heat. I like to have my bad heats early and get my good ones later."
Slater, 39, will face Bede Durbidge and C.J. Hobgood in the fourth round. His most serious threats to another Bells victory probably are Aussies Durbidge, Mick Fanning and Owen Right, and South Africa's Jordy Smith, who finished second to Slater in the world title race last year.
Going into the Rip Curl Pro, Slater made it clear that he's not yet ready to retire from competitive surfing. "If I wasn't hungry to win an 11th ASP World Title, then I wouldn't be here," he said.
Rip Curl Mens RD4 Highlights from McKinnon Media Productions on Vimeo.
Of the allure of competition at Bells, the Floridian explained, "As a kid in the States I saw a lot of film of this event. I got an idea of what the wave was like and that it was like surfing in an arena. I thought of it like two gladiators battling with fans watching from the cliffs. I remember watching Tom Curren and Occy's [Mark Occhilupo] heats, and I couldn't wait to come here."
-- Pete Thomas
Image of Kelly Slater is courtesy of ÃÂ© ASP 2011 Kirstin Scholtz
"Soul Surfer" premieres Friday across the U.S. and Canada and whatever people might think of the quality of the production, most probably will leave theaters in agreement that Bethany Hamilton's comeback story should rank as one of the most remarkable in sports.
By now mainstream society is at least vaguely familiar with the movie's true-to-life plot: promising young surfer loses an arm to a shark, yet somehow discovers the strength and courage not only to keep surfing, but to compete at a high level.
But many might not fully grasp just how difficult it was for Hamilton, her deep faith in God not withstanding, to stay passionately involved in a fast-moving sport in which two arms are as vital for balance as they are for paddling and getting up on a surfboard.
"For me, watching her do what she does just makes me want to try that much harder," elite pro surfer Alana Blanchard, Hamilton's close friend and witness to the 2003 attack, said Wednesday in an interview. "She is amazing how motivated she is and just how inspiring she is to everyone."
Hamilton was only 13 when the incident occurred. "Soul Surfer" stars Anna Sophia Robb as Bethany; Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt as the surfer's parents; country music star Carrie Underwood as Bethany's youth minister, and Lorraine Nicholson as Blanchard.
From an acting standpoint, Robb recalled in a Collider.com interview that it was challenging simply pretending to do ordinary things with only one arm. "I had my arm behind my back so there were times that I was tempted to reach out for something, and then I had to remember [that I couldn't]," Robb said. "There are a lot of things that you can't really do, like tying your bathing suit, carrying bags out to the car, or opening a bottle of water, which Bethany does. She just does it all. She does more with her arm than I do with my two."
Hamilton probably would have bled to death had Holt and Byron not rushed to her assistance. Holt covered the wound with a thin wetsuit vest and used a surfboard leash as a tourniquet.
Hamilton, now 21, was born into a surfing family on Kauai, Hawaii. She competed in her first competition when she was 8. The 14-foot tiger shark struck as she was was surfing at a local spot with Blanchard and Blanchard's father and brother -- Holt and Byron, respectively -- on the morning of Oct. 31, 2003.
[More: The best big-wave rides of the year revealed.]
To everyone's surprise, Hamilton was back in the water a month later, still hoping to someday turn pro. "I just remember being so happy when she decided to get back in the water and go surfing that day," Alana Blanchard recalled. "When the shark attack happened I thought I lost my surfing partner forever, and her getting back in the water was the best thing ever."
A little more than a year after losing her arm she shocked everyone, save perhaps her family, by winning a national amateur title in front of a large California crowd.
"When she hit the water at Nationals of course everyone was watching," recalled Chris Mauro, then the editor of Surfer magazine. "And everyone was nervous, not knowing what to expect. Then she ripped her first wave all the way down the beach and paddled back out like it was nothing. I watched people in the crowd melt into tears, crying, cheering. I had a huge lump in my throat -- it was easily one of the most inspirational things I've ever seen. And she hasn't stopped. She keeps blowing people away. To this day what she's doing seems impossible to most surfers."
In 2007, Hamilton turned pro and has since participated in numerous Assn. of Surfing Professionals' competitions, with the highlight being a second-place finish at the 2009 World Junior Championships. Last year, she became only one of a handful of female surfers to ride giant waves at Jaws off Maui.
More recently she has been busy in the role of stunt double for "Soul Surfer," but she'll break away from movie commitments later this month as a sponsor wild card in the top-level Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach contest in Australia.
That means Hamilton, a longtime Rip Curl team athlete, will be going up against an ASP Women's World Tour roster that includes Blanchard.
Asked about the prospect of facing Hamilton in a contest heat, Blanchard quipped, "Of course I don't want her in my heat; shes a really hard competitor and she rips. But if it ends up that way then we'll just go out there and surf and hopefully have some fun."
-- Top image is courtesy of Noah Hamilton Photography and subject to copyright protection
In the latest installments of Rip Curl's Tip 2 Tip series, the ship is taken over by the ladies of Rip Curl, Steph Gilmore, Bethany Hamilton, Tyler Wright, and Alana Blanchard. The mood on the boat, now that the men have been cast off, is far less feral with all the estrogen floating around. The girls also seem to score some fun waves to boot...
check out more info over at Rip Curl.
On Oct. 31, 2003, Bethany Hamilton had her left arm bitten off just below the shoulder by a large shark as the 13-year-old surfer was paddling off the Hawaiian island of Kauai.
Last Christmas Day, in what seems a peculiar twist of irony, Hamilton became one of only a few women ever to ride the mountainous surf at a notorious Maui destination called "Jaws," whose swells are so swift and massive that surfers must tow onto them behind jet-powered personal watercraft.
Hamilton, now 20, having long since conquered her fear of lurking predators, and overcome a seemingly debilitating handicap to compete at a high level, had written another remarkable chapter in a life story that has been made into a Hollywood movie.
"I don't see how she even did it," says Bill Sharp director of the yearlong Billabong XXL Global Big-Wave Awards, a competition that each spring doles cash awards in various categories, mostly to men. "I find it extraordinary because she rode an incredible wave at Jaws with no asterisk around it."
Hamilton, who lost 60% of her blood and might have died were it not for the efforts of rescuers that fateful Halloween morning, is a candidate in the Women's Performance category of the XXL contest, which will reveal winners during an April 23 ceremony in Anaheim.
"She just keeps showing us that anything is possible," Brazil's Maya Gabeira, who won the award the past three years, says of Hamilton. "I'm a big fan of Bethany and she has always inspired me."
Gabeira, 22, is inspirational in her own right, a trailblazer who made her grand entry into the male-dominated sport of big-wave surfing three years ago, when she became the first woman to tow onto the snarling, barrel-shaped waves at a Tahitian break called Teahupoo, One slip here, as Gabeira has learned the hard way, can lead to an over-the-falls slam onto a shallow reef.
Her memorable performances this year have come at Dungeons, a shark-infested spot off South Africa; Jaws, also on Christmas Day; Maverick's off Half Moon Bay, Calif.; and Hammerheads off Oahu where, she says, "I got the biggest barrel of my life on a medium day towing with my partner Carlos Bure."
Now tackling the same places, either paddling in or towing behind jet-ski partners, are surfers such as Savannah Shaughnessey, Mercedes Maidana, Jamilah Star, and Keala Kennelly.
"There's definitely a strong group of girls charging now and they will only get better in the near future," Gabeira says. "I think it's an exciting time to be around."
It certainly is for Hamilton. Production just wrapped on a feature-length movie entitled, "Soul Surfer," scheduled for release in 2011. Its cast includes AnnaSophia Robb as Bethany; Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt as her parents; Lorraine Nicholson as Alana Blanchard, Bethany's best friend and witness to the attack; and singer Carrie Underwood in her film debut.
Said Bethany: "I'm just stoked to see the team of people that came together to make the movie. Every person is so talented, and they have all dedicated themselves to this project because they want to be apart of telling my story. So that means a lot to my family and me."