A Web Exclusive with Soul Surfer's Real Life Star: Bethany Hamilton

Bethany Hamilton was just thirteen years old when she lost her arm to a fourteen-foot tiger shark while surfing in the ocean off of Hawaii.  After losing more than sixty percent of her blood and having her left arm ripped off from just below the shoulder, Bethany went on to defy those who thought she'd never surf again and to become one of the world's top female pro surfers.  The movie Soul Surfer released on September 23rd, tells the story of how she overcame all the odds to pursue her dream of surfing competitively and that with a little faith, determination and great friends, anything is possible.


For Director Sean McNamara, Soul Surfer is all about attitude, "the feisty unwavering attitude of a girl who never stopped believing in herself, her family or in the sheer beauty and thrill of being alive."  With a star-studded line-up, including Anna Sophia Robb who plays Bethany, Helen Hunt, Dennis Quaid and Carrie Underwood making her film debut, there is no doubt that this film captures the struggle, the determination and the family unity that helped make Bethany who she is today, a truly inspiring young woman!


Now twenty-one years old, I met with Bethany to find out more about her movie, her plans for the future and how she managed to get back into the water again after coming face to face with THAT shark.


Bethany enters the interview room looking relaxed, beautiful and every inch the Hawaiian surfer girl.


STUDIO: How long ago were you approached about the film?

Bethany Hamilton: The idea's been there since I did the documentary, Heart Of A Soul Surfer, and the notion of a film was always at the back of my mind. The movie idea was pitched properly only two years ago, and then I realized that it might actually happen. I met with Sean McNamara and I immediately loved him. He's an honest, good guy and I knew he'd make an honest, good film – which he has.


STUDIO: Fitting your life into ninety minutes of film can be pretty daunting. Was there anything that you wanted to include, that didn't make the final cut?

BH: No, not really.  We really did get in everything that mattered to us.  Overall, I'm so happy with how the movie turned out.   Incorporating surfing, my faith and making it into a 'Hollywood movie' can be hard, but everybody did a great job.


STUDIO: Did the movie turn out how you'd imagined?

BH: Not exactly, but I was so relived when I first watched it.   It kept true to how we wanted it to be, which is all I hoped for.


STUDIO: How did you overcome your fear of sharks after the attack?

BH: I was just more scared of losing surfing than of another shark attack.  Attacks are so rare.   You don't get into a car every day and worry about having a car crash; it's the same thing.


STUDIO: Had you met Anna Sophia Robb before?

BH: I'd seen her in several films before and really enjoyed her acting, and thought she could be right for the part of 'me'.  I suggested her and she was such a great match.  My surf coach and I taught her how to surf and helped her to get comfortable in the ocean.  We've become really good friends.  She's rad!


STUDIO: It must have been tough on Anna Sophia having you on set?

BH: (Laughing) Yeah we're similar ages, and I guess it was strange having me right there while she was being me.  But she did such a great job.


STUDIO: How much input did you have?  Were you on the set of the movie everyday?

BH: If anything, my brother's were both on set everyday, but it's such a long process and we as a family were completely involved, but I guess I had more than a normal involvement.


STUDIO: What were your family and friends' reaction to seeing themselves portrayed in the movie?

BH: My friends just laughed, and what I've learnt through this whole process is that it's not about making it the exact same and completely mirroring real life, but it's about capturing the emotions and letting other people experience the feelings of what happened for themselves.


STUDIO: Did your mum see similarities between herself and Helen Hunt, who plays her in the film?

BH: No, we just laughed when we watched it.  I don't see any similarities between my mum and Helen.  But I loved how it all worked out.  The Soul Surfer family is fun and my family is fun!


STUDIO: The footage at the end of Soul Surfer is actually you and your family.  And it seems to mirror scenes shown in the actual movie...

BH: Yeah, I know.   Almost every scene in the movie is based on something that really happened.  The only things that weren't true were the Keoki character, but I liked what he bought to the film.  He was there to show that someone will love me for me one day.   The archrival, Malina Birch, was an added character too, but you have someone like that in any competitive sport.  »






STUDIO: You actually did your own surfing stunts...

BH: It was awesome.   Basically, after movie-Bethany loses her arm, I did my own stunt surfing.  I also have a cameo.  I walk in front of the camera in Thailand, which is really cool.


STUDIO: When you went to Thailand, it's a very emotional part of the film.  Was that true to life?

BH: Thailand was incredible and is probably one of the best trips of my life.  To be able to encourage literally the whole village to overcome their fear of the ocean was amazing.  I shared what I went through with them and it was so cool to make an impact and to help.


STUDIO: What's coming up for you in the future?

BH: I want to continue to be the best surfer that I can be.  That's currently my huge focus.  I also love the study of nutrition and health.  I'd love to get a TV show going, something such as me doing humanitarian work and bringing along my friends.   Straight after Europe, I go directly to the Maldives.  I've never been there before, so I'm psyched to go and surf there!


STUDIO: I've heard that your workout regime is pretty intense!

BH: I surf a lot.  I do four to six hours a day and enjoy other sports like tennis, running, strength training and stretching – it balances out.


STUDIO: How did you get into surfing in the beginning?

BH: My parents and both my brothers introduced me to it.  I spent a lot of time in the ocean when I was little and it just went from there.


STUDIO: You're quite the inspiration.  Do you have a message to any young people out there that are going through a difficult time right now?

BH: We all go through different things in life.   Not necessarily a shark attack, but we all have struggles.   It can be hard, but you just have to look for the good in a bad situation and surround yourself with people that love and care about you.


STUDIO: Faith plays a big part in your life...

BH: My faith in God is something that's been there for as long as I can remember.  But I try to be my natural self and not push it on to other people.  I know that he loves me just as I am and is creative in working things out for all of us.


STUDIO: Who would you say is your inspiration?

BH: I guess for me I'm not an idolizing person, but what I notice is that I'll meet different people and will just try and see the beauty in them and hope that it rubs off on me.   I have great friends who I've grown up with, and I feel that it's the people that we spend day to day with that are the biggest influences on our lives.


STUDIO: Here at STUDIO we're obviously big movie fans.  Do you have a favourite movie?

BH: For sure – that old movie, North Shore.


STUDIO: How do you feel about being classed as a role model?

BH: It's cool.   I stay true to my natural self and I don't live my life thinking that I'm a role model.  That's a lot of pressure – but there aren't that many great role models out there and I just try to be me!


STUDIO: What would you like the audience to take home with them after seeing the movie?

BH: Hopefully to enjoy the film and enjoy the surfing, which is so beautiful.  But most of all, I hope people can find inspiration to push through those hard times.



Words by Carley Dale.  Soul Surfer is out in cinemas now.

"We all go through different things in life. Not necessarily a shark attack, but we all have struggles."
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