You only need to watch this video of 26-year-old Bethany Hamilton surfing double-overhead waves—so gracefully—to understand why she’s known as a “soul surfer.” Kelly Slater—arguably the greatest pro surfer of all time—posted the video on Instagram in May, following the World Surf League’s 2016 Fiji Pro competition. In the caption, he wrote “Anyone who isn’t inspired by Bethany Hamilton … should check their pulse.”
Slater has a point. Thirteen years ago, in Kauai, Hamilton lost her left arm to a tiger shark, doing what she loves most, but that didn’t even come close to stopping her. Today, she’s still surfing—and doing it at the highest level. As a wildcard in the aforementioned competition, Hamilton knocked out six-time world champion Stephanie Gilmore and No.1-ranked Tyler Wright to make it into the women’s semifinals. Inspired doesn’t even begin to cover it. Wanting to know a little more about what makes Hamilton tick, we asked her to share all the wisdom she’s accrued from being not just a survivor, but also a legend in the making.
What motivated you to get back in the water?
My fear of not surfing outweighed my fear of sharks. I had to get back to my greatest passion: surfing.
What’s your advice for anyone who feels fear?
Fear can stun us and hold us back from accomplishing our greatest victories. Focus on what you’re passionate about and what you can do and go for it! For me, it's my faith, family, and surfing!
What were the toughest physical and mental challenges you faced when getting back into surfing and training for competitions?
Adapting to surfing with one arm was incredibly challenging. Learning to catch waves, stand up on my board, and then balance all took time and determination—and most of all, belief that I could do it. There were rough days, but the good days and good waves kept me coming back for more.
Did that experience teach you anything about achieving goals, and finding the strength to do so?
Setting goals is about creating the time and energy to achieve them, and surrounding yourself with people or things that help motivate you towards them.
Also, forgiveness. No one is perfect. The more I go through in life, the more I realize that forgiveness towards others and myself, if they wrong me or I make a mistake, is so essential. My faith as a Christian has taught me this and I feel so blessed to learn to forgive and receive forgiveness!
You’ve done humanitarian and aid work with people in impoverished countries. How has that changed your perspective?
It really is an eye-opening experience to relate to and serve people who are in need. It really puts in perspective the simple things we take for granted, like three meals a day or clean drinking water. These opportunities have encouraged me to move forward in life living each day with gratitude.
What’s your favorite thing to eat post-surf?
A smoothie for recovery.
You have a husband and baby. What does a typical day of eating look like for your family?
In the mornings we love meal shakes with superfoods, a protein with multivitamins, spinach—plus some espresso! For lunch, it’s salads, eggs, and veggies. My favorite dinner we make is Italian “zoodles” (zucchini noodles) with spicy red pasta sauce, organic chicken sausage, and goat cheese. We usually finish the day with dark chocolate.
What would we be surprised to find in your fridge or pantry?
My hubby and I have started eating noni—it’s a nutritious healing fruit that grows here in Hawaii. We have fresh noni juice shots every day and feed our little guy, Tobias, noni fruit leather when traveling.
What foods do you always, always avoid?
I don't eat much gluten and avoid processed foods, dyes, and GMOs. I really find joy and good health in organic, whole foods that we prepare at home—it leads my family and me to live energetic and fun lives.
Where’s your favorite place in the world?
I love home, Hawaii. I'm secretly a homebody; I love sleeping in my own bed, making my own food, being active and surfing, and being close to my family. We do travel a ton, but I guess it makes home that much sweeter.
Your favorite place to surf?
Tahiti! The waves are incredible and the ocean is so clean, warm, and beautiful.
What are three things on your bucket list?
- I have one son, Tobias, and I hope to have more children.
- Surf till I'm a grandma.
- Explore Europe.
You talk about mana, the Hawaiian word for “power.” What does it mean in your life?
I find mana in my life from my faith and self-confidence. My faith gives me assurance to face anything that life throws at me. When I’m feeling confident in that, I have a lot of mana to take on the day.
Photo credit: Trevor Murphy, © Soul Surfer and Company/Lieber