Bethany Hamilton’s story is the stuff scripted, made-for-TV movies are made of. Girl gets arm bit off by a shark. Survives. Not only surfs again, but wins “the championship.” It doesn’t seem real. It’s just Jaws, meets Lifetime, right?
Well, yes, Soul Surfer, the inspirational Hollywood adaptation of Bethany’s life, is a little Jaws meets Lifetime, which is precisely why it’s so mind-boggling to watch a story we know is true, starring a character we see in the lineup, splayed across the silver screen.
It’s been almost eight years since a then 13-year-old Bethany was attacked by a 14-foot tiger shark while surfing with best friend Alana Blanchard in Kauai, and the world has watched in awe ever since, as Bethany’s modified her equipment and gone onto win a NSSA National Championship, get barreled out of her brains at Teahupoo and surf World Tour events as a wildcard.
Debuting in theatres nationwide on April 8th, Soul Surfer, isn’t likely to earn critical acclaim or top dollars at the box office. But ultimately — and to the surf community especially — this movie is about Bethany, and you’ll hear zero argument from this audience, Bethany is remarkable. Surfline caught up with Hamilton before the film’s release.
How involved were you in the film?
My family and I were very involved throughout the whole process — as involved as possible in each scenario. It was challenging at times trying to keep up with the movie’s shooting pace and submit our notes on time, but we all feel like everything we contributed made the movie SO much more realistic and true to us.
What percentage of the film is Hollywood versus ‘real life?’
The director tried to base each scene on real life in some way. Obviously, when
Are you and Alana still close friends? Do you talk about the attack?
Yes, Alana and I are still close friends and we enjoy surfing and hanging out at home and traveling the world together for surf events and trips. She is surfing really well and I hope she can continue to succeed! We don’t talk about it at all, really.
How was meeting the actors — who were you most star-struck by — if anyone?
All the actors are really great people and we became friends. I am not the type of person to get star-struck at all, so I didn’t. I actually didn’t recognize Dennis Quaid when I met him, but some of my friends were excited about meeting Jeremy Sumpter — who played Byron, Alana’s brother. He starred in Peter Pan, which we all saw growing up, and we had crushes on him when we were little. Nearly the entire cast got hooked on surfing through this project! I surfed with just about everyone!
Did you meet Carrie Underwood? The movie depicts you as a ukulele player before the attack, is that true?
I did meet Carrie, though it was a busy time so we didn’t really have a chance to get to know each other. She was very sweet, humble and seemed genuine. Obviously she was nervous and under a lot of pressure, so I just kind of let her have her space and didn’t bother her.
I LOVE music! Before one arm, I did used to play ukulele and guitar — and it’s one of the things I miss the most now.
Equipment, design — the movie alludes to this, but have you made any changes to your equipment recently?
After losing my arm, one of the most difficult things as a surfer was to duck-dive; just not having that control over the board that you have with two arms. My dad came up with an idea that we still use today — a handle on my surfboards. The first one had the handle
drilled into the board, but now we use stick-on leash plugs from Surf Co Hawaii and my dad has a whole system set up. Now I’m just working with the gang at Channel Islands Surfboards to fine tune my boards; I ride mostly Epoxy Pro XTR blanks.
Have you watched the shark attack scene, is it difficult to sit through?
I have watched it several times. I actually tried to help them make it more realistic in the editing process. For me, it’s not hard to watch, but I definitely feel like Soul Surfer did a good job of recreating the moment — from the surprise of the bite to the long paddle in…
Have you found that the surf industry has regarded you as a surfer first, shark attack survivor second in terms of coverage etc.?
For the most part… and yes, more recently. I’d much rather be regarded as a surfer first, because that’s who I am!
How do you feel about your situation now? What has been the most rewarding experience that’s materialized as a result of the accident?
Just seeing all the beautiful things that have happened through it all — people getting inspired to overcome the challenges in their own lives. That’s the main thing, just seeing the way my life has impacted so many people around the world. Plus, I’m still doing what I love and scoring surf all over the world, just with one arm.
Will there be a red carpet premiere or any other glitz and glamour in store for you as the movie rolls out?
Yes, I’m really excited, but kinda stressing cause I don’t know what to wear! Haha! I try not to think too far ahead about all that… I like to enjoy each day surfing until then!