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Is Soul Surfer a True Story?

June 8, 2020
4 min read

‘Soul Surfer,’ directed by Sean McNamara, details how a teenage surfer tragically lost her arm after being attacked by a shark. While being alive after such a disastrous near-death experience is one thing, it is still difficult to keep that positivity alive when you are left without an arm in the process.  The film, however, focuses on how the central character, Bethany Hamilton (AnnaSophia Robb), overcomes these challenges and gets back to surfing. 

Is Soul Surfer Based on a True Story?

Yes, ‘Soul Surfer’ is based on the true story of Bethany Hamilton, a professional surfer. That said, it is important to note that the movie is inspired by her autobiography titled, ‘Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board.’ However, the film does not completely stick to the details in the autobiography, as it takes some creative license for dramatic effect. 

Photo Credit: Goodreads.com

Who is Bethany Hamilton?

Bethany Hamilton began surfing at the age of 8. On 31 October 2003, a 13-year-old Hamilton went surfing with her best friend Alana and two of Alana’s family members in Tunnels Beach, Kauai. This is when a tiger shark attacked her, making her lose her left arm in the process. Alana’s father covered her wound and rushed her to the hospital. By this time, Hamilton had lost 60% of her blood and went into a hypovolemic shock. She was then operated upon, after which she made a gradual recovery. 

Though the attack was extremely traumatic, it by no means stopped Hamilton from getting back to surfing. In fact, in about a month or so after the attack, she was back on a customized surfing board, trying to surf with just one hand. By 2004, she had entered a surfing competition too. The same year, the police confirmed that the 14-foot long shark that attacked her had been killed. They could confirm this as there was Hamilton’s surfboard debris in its mouth when it was found. Though she received a prosthetic arm custom made for her later, she chose not to use it. In an interview, she said, “Living in Kauai, everybody knows who I am and it’s not really going to make me more confident having a real arm and a fake arm.”

Life Post the Attack 

At a steady pace, and with the support of her family and rigorous training, she was able to get back to surfing. Her surfboard and bathing suit from the say she got attacked is now displayed at the California Surf Museum. Thus, her story has inspired many people. She has been featured on ABC’s ’20/20,’ ‘The ‘Oprah Winfrey Show,’ ‘The Ellen DeGeneres Show,’ and several other shows and magazines. She has also won an ESPY award for the Best Comeback Athlete. It will perhaps be of interest for the viewers to know that she is the one who did all the surfboarding stunts for the film, ‘Soul Surfer,’ though Robb played the role of Bethany. 

Even ‘Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable’ is based on her story, but mostly highlights her journey into motherhood. She has two sons from her marriage to Adam Dirks. She is also highly rooted in her faith, which played a major role in her recovery and success after the attack. 

True in Essence 

As pitched in the movie, Hamilton continues to use her experience as a surfer to motivate and inspire others into doing what they believe in. The film does exaggerate the narrative on some levels, especially the part where Bethany gets a cardiac arrest in the movie, whereas in real life, she did not. Regardless, the movie is very much in tune with the essence of Bethany’s experience and the road to not just recovery but also success, making her an inspirational icon of our times.

Read More: Best Shark Movies 

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