Bethany Hamilton refuses to be defined by the left arm that a tiger shark stole from her at age thirteen. Now twenty-nine, the married mother of two has more than enough purpose to thrive, and she’s using a new documentary by director Aaron Lieber to share her story with the world. Consider this her effort beyond Soul Surfer to empower others to overcome their obstacles, and to recognize that God’s goodness is greater than we could ever imagine.
Hamilton says that she didn’t set out to make a feature-length documentary, but after she and husband Adam Dirks were married in 2013, they met Lieber and set up what was to be a twelve-minute project. “It was to show me performing at a high level, extreme athletics,” the surfer explained. “We decided to make it thirty minutes and it just kept growing and we ended up telling the full story!”
Soul Surfer of course tells the Hollywood version of the teenage Hamilton’s story, cinematically transforming her memoir, Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board. Hamilton’s story captured national attention because she wasn’t slow to get back on her board and chase waves, because she was transparent about the faith she’d been taught at home by her parents, and because when she did get back on her board, she kept winning.
“They did a good job with Soul Surfer, but it was actors and Hollywood. It didn’t capture the real me. And so much had happened since it was completed. Having my first son, surfing as a mom. It’s like deja vu to be doing a movie again, but I’m excited to share my story.”
That documentary shares plenty of surfing visuals, as Hamilton comes from a family of surfers and grew up on Lihue, Hawaii. She calls surfing her “God-given passion,” a vocation that also affords her a way to provide for her family. Even now, with children Tobias and Wesley, she is happy to surf for an hour or two each day.
“I’m usually pretty refreshed,” Hamilton said with a chuckle. “Unless I had a bad sesh! But my four-year-old loves surfing too, and I’m sure the little one will get into it, too, because he’ll want to keep up with his big brother! As a family, we share in this fun stuff together.”
Dirks’ entry into Hamilton’s life became permanent only a few months after she met the youth minister. His support has proved crucial with the filming and travelling the family has done as they captured Hamilton’s exploits on some of the world’s biggest waves for Unstoppable. For a guy who grew up playing football and running track in Kansas, Hamilton is quick to point out that he’s taken to the waves. “We make an awesome team,” she said, grinning from ear to ear. “Sharing parenthood, riding the waves.”
It’s that blend of the waves being ridden and the family growing that makes the documentary phenomenal. Hamilton says she knew that non-surfers would watch it, and that they would see the obstacles overcome. But it’s more than surf highlights, because they wanted the story of Bethany Hamilton to be relatable.
“I’ve seen there’s so much beauty in being able to share our stories,” Hamilton proclaimed. “As Christians, I think we can relate to that - to see how God worked through my toughest times, even when it felt like my world was falling apart. All of us go through tough times - it’s just a matter of when. Having our feet on God’s solid rock prepares us for them. I think people are attracted to my story because I have that in me.”
Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable is in theaters July 12.