Bethany Hamilton came into the the Fiji Women’s Pro surfing competition strictly as a wild card, one who stood little chance of creating any waves in the event over the weekend.
But, by now, people maybe should stop counting Hamilton out. The 26-year-old from Hawaii has continued to surf despite losing her left arm in a shark attack 13 years ago, and she reached the event’s semifinals. Along the way, she eliminated world No. 1 and series leader Tyler Wright and six-time world champion Stephanie Gilmore, according to Honolulu’s StarAdvertiser.com. Hamilton ended up finishing third overall, with Johanne Defay winning the competition, but that was really beside the point.
Hamilton was making her sixth appearance on the elite level WSL tour and her previous best finish was ninth in 2010.
“Coming here and competing in the Fiji Women’s Pro is a dream come true and I am stoked with how I did,” Hamilton said (via the Star Advertiser). “The women on the championship tour are surfing amazing right now and the level continues to get better and better. I have so much respect for all the girls and it has been an amazing time here. I am so thankful for my husband’s and family’s support and all of my fans for cheering me on. It has been an incredible experience.”
After her surprising finish, she tweeted: “Beyond stoked to finish 3rd in the #FijiPro as the wildcard! LOVED competing & looking forward to more adventures!!!”
Hamilton’s training was affected by the birth to her first child, son Tobias, last June.
“It’s been an amazing year full of beauty and challenge becoming a mom but also continuing my surfing career,” she said after getting the wild card. “I’ve loved working hard and I am feeling strong and sharp.”
When Hamilton was 13, a 14-foot tiger shark mauled her, taking her left arm off at the shoulder and causing her to lose over half of her blood in the attack. “I was laying on my board sideways,” she told ABC in 2005. “And then … the shark came up and grabbed a hold of my arm. And then, I was holding onto my board, with my thumb, because I probably didn’t want to get pulled under. It was like pulling me back and forth, not like pulling me underwater. Just like, you know how you eat a piece of steak? … It was kind of like that. And then it let go. And then went under. Then I looked down at the water, and it was like really red, from all the blood in the water.”
Yet less than a month later, she was back on a board, learning how to balance with only one arm. The story of her determination was made into the 2011 movie “Soul Surfer,” she competed with her husband on “The Amazing Race” and the only concession she makes to her disability while surfing is a handle on her board.
“I know I am in a unique position to encourage young girls to make great decisions as they grow into women and to chase their dreams,” Hamilton told WSL on Sunday.“Even after losing my arm, I am still doing everything I’ve hoped I could do with my future and even more. I think I am a reminder for the young girls that they can do it if they set their mind to it.”