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Hamilton, Bethany


Beatific amateur champion who, at age 13, lost her left arm to a tiger shark while surfing near her home in Kauai. Hamilton (no relation to Bill or Laird Hamilton) was born (1990) and raised in Kauai, began surfing at age four, and was soon dominating the local amateur circuit. In May 2003 she won the women's division of a state-wide event in Honolulu, beating a field of mostly older competitors, at which point the thin blond goofyfooter was touted as one of the island's hottest young pro tour prospects.

On Halloween morning, 2003, in near-flat conditions at Tunnels, a break on the north shore of Kauai, Hamilton was paddling her red, white, and blue board when a 15-foot tiger shark attacked, took her arm just below the shoulder, and disappeared. Hamilton said she felt no pain and began to paddle for shore with her remaining arm, calling out to best friend and fellow rising star Alana Blanchard that she'd been hit by a shark. On the beach, Blanchard's father used a surf leash as a tourniquet, saving Hamilton's life.

Hamilton's recovery was amazingly fast. She returned to competition fewer than seven months after the attack and placed fifth in the 2004 NSSA nationals in late June. One year later, she returned to the nationals and won.

Hamilton, a devout born-again Christian—notes to fans are signed, "Love in Christ," and her website has links to Christian Surf Magazine and Christian Surfers International—meanwhile had a long moment in the media spotlight as she appeared on Oprah, Dateline, and MTV, and was the subject of articles in the New York Times, People, and Life. Her autobiography, Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board, came out in October 2004, just after Surfer magazine named her one of the year's "Most Intriguing Surfers." In 2006 Hamilton wrote Devotions for the Soul Surfer, a book of inspirational prayers. The documentary Heart of a Soul Surfer came out in 2008. 

Turning tragedy into opportunity, Hamilton also put her name on a long line of signature products, including shampoo, lip gloss, perfume, body lotion, posters, and a refrigerator magnet replicating her attack-day board, including shark bite.  

2011 saw the release of Soul Surfer, a major Hollywood release starring Helen Hunt and Dennis Quaid; the resulting boost in Hamilton's popularity pushed the revised book version of Soul Surfer to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. In 2013, Hamilton's announcement that she was engaged to local surfer Adam Dirks made international headlines.