Surfer Bethany Hamilton & Her Unstoppable Courage to Get Back on the Board
Have you ever thought to yourself, “It’s not fair!”
The thought is certainly easy to have sometimes. When we’re crushed by an unexpected blow or lose something so valuable we can’t imagine going on without it, collapsing into self-pity can feel unavoidable. Or maybe it’s the little, everyday things that get you down: the job you feel stuck in, disappointment in your love life, the same old undesirable patterns repeating themselves. It’s easy to let everyday disappointments get you down.
We’ve all felt sorry for ourselves at one point or another. Sometimes it’s completely valid, maybe even healthy, to feel that way — but there does come a point where we must accept where we’re at and then say, “Okay. What now? How can I turn this challenge into a growth opportunity?” The only other option we have over the long term is to become bitter.
By now you may have noticed there are those who go through life feeling victimized and those who choose to take responsibility for the hand they’re dealt. Every once in a while, there comes someone who serves as an example of how to empower yourself no matter what unwanted circumstance appears in your life.
Shark attack survivor and surfer Bethany Hamilton is one of those examples. Besides her surfing skills being absolutely remarkable, this powerhouse of a woman lost her arm in a shark attack and was back in the water a month later.
Bethany just doesn’t give up, and guess what? Neither should you. You never know what’s around the corner when you say “yes” to life, even when things didn’t exactly go as planned.
Are you ready to be inspired? Let’s dive in!
The Incredible Story of the Bethany Hamilton Shark Attack
Bethany is a surfing prodigy. She started surfing at the age of seven, won her first contest at eight, earned a sponsorship deal with Rip Curl at age nine, and won the women’s open with the National Scholastic Surfing Association (NSSA) at age 12.
But it was at Halloween of 2003 that Bethany’s life took a dramatic turn. While surfing with a buddy at Tunnels Beach in Kauai, the 13-year-old was attacked by a fourteen-foot Tiger Shark, lost 60 percent of her blood, and went into shock before her friend’s father stopped the bleeding by using a surf leash as a tourniquet.
She was lucky to get away with her life, but she did lose her arm, a crushing blow that could have ended anyone’s surfing career. Amazingly, she was back to surfing a month later. In fact, following her attack, getting back in the water was all she could think about.
Not only did she continue her career, she actually won the 2005 NSSA championships. Beyond that, she never stopped surfing. In fact, in 2015, she won the 2014 Pipeline Women’s Pro. Bethany did not let her loss get the better of her. She certainly didn’t let it stop her from doing what she loved the most and what she feels she was born to do.
If you want to see footage of Bethany before and after her attack, check out the 2018 documentary, Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable. And for a narrative take on her story, watch the 2011 film Soul Surfer.
The One-Armed Surfer Today
The world knows Bethany Hamilton best for surviving her shark attack, and while she’s so much more than that (a devoted mother and wife to name just a couple of other roles she plays), she has turned that incident into fuel for her personal growth and her career as a mentor, author, and inspiring speaker.
She’s the author of numerous books, including Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board and Soul Surfer Devotions. She’s a regular public speaker and a voice for the community of amputees and those with physical challenges.
Her retreat, Beautifully Flawed, helps teenage girls and young women who have limb differences or the loss of a limb embrace their unique beauty. This brings much-needed attention and support to women who might struggle with the challenges of being a female amputee in a world so obsessed with physical perfection.
Then there’s her mother-daughter mentorship and retreat, which helps support the bond between mother and teenage daughter, a relationship that can sometimes be fraught with challenges. She brings her strong Christian faith to all of her teachings which, while not for everyone, provides a powerful backbone for her work.
As an influencer, she shows the world how to live life fully, even after a loss that changed her world forever, and to have fun while doing it. Most recently, she’s written a children’s book designed to help youngsters navigate uncertainty and challenges just like she did.
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How Does She Do It?
There’s no doubt that Bethany is inspiring. Overcoming a shark attack and still being a celebrated surfer is no easy feat. But how did she find the strength to avoid spiraling into victimhood and rise as a champion instead?
“It’s all about mindset,” she says on her Instagram page. It all goes back to that old glass-half-full or glass-half-empty story. Having gratitude is something that people talk about a lot, but when tough times come up, it’s a lot harder to put into practice. That’s why it’s helpful to cultivate an attitude of gratitude daily — by making gratitude a habit, you make it easier to activate that appreciation in the tough moments.
Having a positive attitude doesn’t mean you ignore what’s wrong or fail to process heavy emotions. It’s just that you do so and then you move on, making the most of what you’ve got. As Bethany told reporters, we have to adapt. Conditions aren’t always what we’d like them to be. So while she kept surfing, of course, she had to make some big adjustments. Missing an arm can make day-to-day tasks, not to mention raising three kids, more challenging. So adaptation is a constant process, she says.
Getting Back on the Board
We’re constantly co-creating with our environment. Sometimes we catch a great wave, other times we get knocked down. We can’t control the ocean — it’s much bigger than us and our own personal wills. However, we can be flexible. We can move with the current, a current that is always changing.
It’s easier to do this when we accept where we’re at. Undoubtedly, this is one of the hardest processes. When we lose something precious to us — a partner, a job, an opportunity, or, in Bethany’s case, a limb — it’s going to hurt. That’s when you need to lean into self-care practices, practice mindfulness, and find ways to process emotions without becoming bitter.
You don’t have to be religious to understand the things you can’t change and work with what you can. You can get support from a therapist, find a community of people like you, or simply work with teachings around acceptance, such as those of Buddhism.
Just don’t let acceptance mean resignation. If you’re born to do something, you can find a way to make it a part of your life, even if it’s not exactly what you’d planned. Take inspiration from Bethany, who was back in the water as quickly as possible after her attack. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Bethany was born to surf. What were you born to do? Maybe it’s acting or coaching or being an influencer in your industry. Maybe it’s having a happy marriage, a loving family, or inspiring your friends.
You’re not going to let a failure, a disappointment, or a tough competitor faze you, right? Whatever it is that you’re certain is your life path, have faith in yourself, and keep going, even if you have to adjust as you go along.
With the right attitude and a little faith, you will be amazed at what you can accomplish!
You Can Develop the Courage to Face Life’s Challenges
Life was never meant to be easy. There are challenges left and right, but whether you choose to see them as obstacles sent to victimize you or as lessons in the school of life is up to you. This doesn’t mean you pretend like things are okay when they’re not. It’s not about toxic positivity. However, you can make the most of what happens by understanding that you’re a part of something bigger. You can co-create with life by accepting where you’re at and surfing the wave that will inevitably come to lift you back up. Be ready to adapt and make the most of all opportunities you’re handed. You never know what might be a blessing in disguise.
Above all, don’t let challenges dampen your passion for the things you love. Those passions are your path to greatness!