Bethany Hamilton was born in Hawaii, the youngest child of Tom and Cheri Hamilton. She has two older brothers, Noah and Timmy, and the entire family surfs. Once she tried surfing as a little girl, she says she knew she wanted to be a surfer. To her, surfing is a passion, it brings true joy.
Bethany (AnnaSophia Robb) and her brothers run outside to watch her mom and dad surf. They each hold up a score, rating their ride. They score Cheri (Helen Hunt) with a range from 5-7, but Tom (Dennis Quaid) racks up higher scores, between 8-10.
Bethany is a competitive surfer, and is competing in the big Jr. Competition in Turtle Bay, along with her best friend, Alana (Lorraine Nicholsen). They’ve surfed together since they were kids, and are both top contenders. Melina (Sonya Balmores) is a tough competitor, too, and net very nice to the girls. They surf, and even though Melina tries to get the best of Bethany, she places 2nd and Bethany takes 1st. RIPCURL, the surfwear/board company, offers to sponsor both Bethany and Alana and they are thrilled.
Bethany and her family are members of a local church, and go together. Sarah Hill (Carrie Underwood) is the leader of the youth group, and is disappointed when Bethany tells her since she just got sponsored in surfing, she needs to train and cannot go on the upcoming mission trip to Mexico.
The day before Halloween is a full moon, and Bethany and Alana sneak out to go night surfing with the local kids. They all wear glowing necklaces, so they can see each other in the dark. Fireworks go off, and they have a great night. In the morning, Mom lets them know they have an English assignment, and the girls balk. She says they can do the assignment, or enroll in regular school after she tells their dad about their escapade, and they readily agree to the task.
Alana’s dad Holt (Kevin Sorbo) and brother Byron (Jeremy Sumpter) take Alana and Bethany with them surfing. They park, and have to hike down to the ocean. The four go surfing, and as Alana and Bethany are lying on their boards paddling, a shark attacks, and bites Bethany’s arm off. Alana screams for her dad, and he tells them they need to make it to the shore. They paddle as fast as they can, with Bethany trailing blood behind her, and get to the rocks. Holt uses the boards’ leashes to strap Bethany to the surfboard, and they get her to shore. Byron runs ahead to get the cell phone in the car to call 911. Holt and Alana carry Bethany back to the car. Instead of waiting for the ambulance, Holt puts Bethany in the back of the truck, and speeds off to meet the ambulance, to save time, as she has lost a lot of blood. They pull over and she is taken to the hospital. I the meantime, Cheri has gotten the phone call, and races to the hospital, to have Bethany’s ambulance pass her.
Bethany goes into shock, and the need to put her on oxygen and shock her. After emergency surgery, she is fine, but almost her entire left arm is gone. Her doctor (Craig T. Nelson) tells her she is amazing, a living miracleshe lost about 60% of her body’s blood that morning. She wants to know when she can surf again. Her parents tell her that she can do all things through Him that gives strength, referring to a Bible verse.
Alana finally comes to visit her in the hospital. She explains that she was pretty shaken up by the whole thing, and thought Bethany was going to die. Now that she is ok, Alana can handle seeing her.
When the day comes that she can go home, the road to her house has hand-painted surfboards along the side, that say, “Welcome Home Bethany, We Love You”. She likes that…but not the hoards of press in her yard, blocking the car’s entrance. Tom rushes out, and drives the car through the hedge, around to the backyard, so Bethany can go in the house through the backdoor and avoid the chaos. She tells her dad, “Nice driving, double-o-seven” and he smiles.
Bethany’s optimistic attitude takes a drop when she realizes she can’t open a bag of bread, or a jar of mayonnaise, or even tie her own swimsuit. She is surprised at how many things she can’t do herself anymore…even doing her own hair. When Inside Edition offers to have a custom prosthetic arm made for her if she’ll do a brief interview afterwards, Bethany eagerly agrees. When it comes, she puts it on, but finds that she can’t grip with it. They tell her she can’t use it to surf as her stump is so short that the prosthetic can’t take weight-bearing activitiesshe can’t push herself up on the surfboard. She freaks out, and wants it off immediately, and runs away. She faces the realization that she might not ever surf again. She just wants to be normal, but her mom talks to her and says that “Normal is overrated”.
Bethany goes to see Sarah; she is just back from the mission trip to Mexico. Bethany asks her why this would happen and how can this be God’s plan for her, and all Sarah can say is that she doesn’t understand, but that she has to think that something positive HAS to come out of it.
Late at night, Tom gets a phone call--someone has caught a huge shark, and he goes down to see it with Bethany’s surfboard. The shark is being held, tail-up, on a hoist, and it is a big one. Tom holds the surfboard bite to the shark’s mouth, and it is a perfect match.
On the day before Thanksgiving, Bethany keeps her family waiting outside, and she makes them breakfast: cut fruit, and breads. She tells them it is a perfect day to start surfing again. The whole family goes, and Tom offers to tow her out but she refuses. Time after time, Bethany is batted down by the surf as without two arms, she can’t push herself up from her paddling position quick enough, and falls. She won’t give up, and finally, she makes it up. Noah is filming it, and they go home and watch together: they analyze it and see how she needs to alter her whole technique to allow for the loss of balance on the left side.
The Hamiltons have a big Hawaiian-style Thanksgiving dinner outside, and have invited many friends and family. Tom offers a toast to how grateful they are to be there as a family this year. They also toast and thank Holt, for without his help, they don’t think Bethany would have survived.
Tom has made surfboards for Bethany, each one bigger than the last, in succession, so Bethany can eventually work herself up to full-size and weight. She surfs everyday and makes progress. Soon, she thinks she is ready for the Hawaiian Inter-island Regionals.
People are thrilled to see her back, and she is competing against her same girls: Alana and Melina. The judges offer her a 5-minute head start, but Bethany refuses. The horn blows and the girls paddle out. As they go for the first big wave, Melina cuts Bethany off and gets it. She scores high. Bethany has a difficult time being quick enough, paddling with one arm, but doesn’t give up. She gets a run in, but it isn’t as good as the others. The surf gets bigger and Bethany gets beat down time and time again by the big waves. Her board gets broken, and she is done. She ends up placing 6th, with Melina 1st and Alana 2nd. Frustrated, she gives some little girls her surfboards instead of the autographs they asked for, and gets in the car. She wants to quit.
Tom and Cheri discuss Bethany’s state. Tom thinks she’ll never be the same if she doesn’t keep trying; Cheri gently tells him, “She’ll NEVER be the same”. They both fear that without surfing, she’ll become lost.
Bethany joins the youth group on a mission trip to Thailand, after the tsunami. The devastation jars her; she thought she had a lot to deal with, but this just put her problem into perspective. A small orphaned boy who hasn’t spoken since the tsunami is afraid to go in the water. Bethany sees lots of surfboards, and slowly wades into the water with one. He follows, and then joins her in the surf. She paddles him on the board, and teaches him to surf. Other children get in the water-their first time since the tsunami and Bethany is so happy that she helped make a difference.
When she returns, her brothers show her the piles and bags of fan mail, and she can’t believe that people around the world care about her, and also find her inspiring. She goes to her dad, and tells him she wants to compete, but they need to figure out her problem with mounting the board. Dad drills small holes in the board, and adds a rope handle on top. This way, she has something to pull on as use as leverage to spring herself up. It works, and they begin training. She surfs everyday, does sit ups, runs with a backpack full of rocks, and can eventually do one-armed pushups. She is ready for the Jr. Nationals.
At Nationals, the surf is exceptionally big, and Tom reminds her that she can’t try to go after every wave like the other girls-she needs to be patient and wait, and use her natural instinct to choose which one to go for. She sees Melina and thanks her for treating her the same as always and not going easy on her-Melina just shrugs it off. The horn sounds, and the girls paddle out. Wave after wave, they surf and get good scores. Bethany is behind, but still has a chance. In the final heat, she needs two scores over 9.5 to catch Melina. Her first one is a great ride and she scores a 9.7. So, it is possible! The waves die down and with less than a minute left, it appears dead. But Bethany paddles to an area that hasn’t had any waves, and waits, and a wave appears. By the time the other girls see it, they are too far away to catch it-it is just Bethany’s wave. She has less than 5 seconds before the round ends, and she pops up, and has an amazing ride. Everyone cheers and it appears Bethany has won, but…the judges say that she popped up on her surfboard a few seconds after the round ended and it doesn’t count. Bethany places 5th overall. She is happy anyway. At the winner’s podium, they get trophies and medals, and surprisingly, Melina calls Bethany to the top with her, and says that even if the judges didn’t count that ride, she did, and shares her 1st place with Bethany.
Today, Bethany, Alana and Melina are all professional surfers. Bethany won the Nationals the next year. She also won ESPN’s ESPY award for Best Comeback of the Year, and still surfs and goes on humanitarian mission trips today.
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