Listen: Bethany Hamilton chats to Laura Bennett
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In 2003 pro-surfer Bethany Hamilton made headlines around the world. At just 13 years of age, the up-and-coming surfer was attacked by a five-metre-long Great White shark, which took her left arm, and left her career in the ocean in doubt.
That Bethany survived the ordeal was miraculous, but four weeks later she astounded her family and friends, returning to her board to adapt to her new physicality and start training again for competition.
Bethany went on to win the United States National Under-18 Championship, place 3rd in the Roxy Pro in Australia, and place 2nd in the World Junior Championship, along with a number of other accomplishments.
In defying the odds to return to surfing, and sharing the Christian faith that gave her the resolve to step back in the water and find a redemptive purpose in her injury, Bethany became an inspirational icon. Her story was turned into the 2011 film Soul Surfer, and now she’s telling it in her own way with her new documentary Unstoppable.
Drawing on her life over the last 10 years, the film offers an insight into the resilience that’s carried Bethany through the decade, and into her greatest adventure yet – becoming a Mum.
“It was a really amazing journey being able to work on creating something that felt really authentic,” said Bethany. “Especially sharing motherhood was a really rad part of the film [because] it wasn’t part of the original plan,” she laughs.
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The Healing Power of the Ocean
As you watch her train with a growing bump, and take to the surf just weeks before giving birth, its clear surfing is more than just sport to Bethany. In fact, she calls the ocean her “place of healing and reflection”, the place where she can truly be herself.
“I think it took me a couple of years to overcome my fear of sharks,” said Bethany, “but now I would say it’s not really a place where I feel fearful… but more a place where I feel rest and freedom from everything on land.”
The fact that Bethany can view the very place she was attacked as a place of restoration, is profound – but she finds God there.
“I think really God gave us nature to heal. You think of people struggling with depression; exercise and being in the sun and being in nature is proven to be a healthy thing.” ~ Bethany Hamilton
“[The ocean] is such an artistic place, and I think really God gave us nature to heal. Just being outside and in the sunshine [really helps]. You think of people struggling with depression; exercise and being in the sun and being in nature is proven to be a healthy thing. It’s beyond just a preference, it’s scientific.”
Some of what Bethany contemplates while in the water are the days before her attack, which she had to relive while compiling footage for the film. Seeing herself as a young girl who had no idea what was coming down the road was an odd experience.
“I totally got emotional watching that [footage],” Bethany said. “Especially now that I’m in a motherhood role… I felt the pain that my Mum and Dad would probably have felt seeing what their daughter went through.
“At the same time there’s a sense of peace that I can still remember to this day, [knowing] that God was in control of all that I was facing, and it was going to be okay.”
Unstoppable is in select cinemas from March 13 to 15.