Sunday, May 20, 2018

'Soul Surfer' Bethany Hamilton's story is a wave of inspiration

This story was originally published April 5, 2011.

Remember looking forward to the Scholastic Book Fair in elementary and middle school? Getting out of class, savoring the smell of brand new books that filled the media center, perusing racks and racks of glorious titles you had to take home and playing with the cool toys and accessories. What could be better?

In 2004, one book on the those racks inspired many of us: Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board, by Bethany Hamilton. You know, the one about the young surfer who lost her arm after a shark attack and relearned how to live her life, and surf again.

That book has been made into a major motion picture, Soul Surfer. Hamilton, the now a 21-year-old Soul Surfer herself, spoke with tb-two* by phone on her way to Miami, one of the few stops she made promoting her movie in Florida.

How was making a book and making a movie different?

I was 14 years old when I wrote my book. It was hard, but we had a person who helped us write it. Making a movie is a lot more fun, but more challenging. Hollywood combined with a true story is kind of scary because you never know if it's going to be right or not, so it's really stressful. It turned out really good, so now I'm stoked.

What was it like seeing someone else pretend to be you?

It was really weird, but I really liked AnnaSophia (Robb). We hung out a lot before she started filming, so it made it easier for her. She's really talented. It was really cool having an amazing actress portray me.

Obviously AnnaSophia has both of her arms. How did they make it look like she lost one?

They put a green sleeve on her and did a lot of editing.

Your book was published awhile ago. I remember reading it in middle school. What have you done between then and now to get a movie made?

The book came out and we weren't really sure if a movie was going to be made. My former manager kept pitching it to a bunch of people, but it never worked out. But a year and a half ago, it started to. It costs a lot of money to produce a film, so we were looking for financial support. We started shooting last February. It started off as a little independent film, but then it grew bigger and bigger. Now it's (going to be) playing at over 2,000 theaters. It's pretty exciting.

What have you been doing to promote your movie?

I've been going around America. My marketing team has been setting up stuff for me to do, making appearances and going to film festivals, a lot of different stuff. It's a lot of work. I was just in Bradenton and I played tennis. It was so fun.

How true-to-life is the movie?

For the most part, the movie is really accurate. There's very little fiction, I'm really glad it turned out to be that way.

You've been a pro surfer since 2007. Did you compete during the making of your movie?

I spend about six months of the year competing in various places. I've had a break the last couple of months, but I (competed) again mid March. Besides Hawaii, I enjoy (surfing in) Puerto Rico and Indonesia. It's cool seeing the different cultures and lifestyles. Australia is pretty fun, too.

How did you get back on the board after your accident?

I practiced standing up (on the board) on the beach with one arm. I started back on a long board, which is what a lot of beginners use, so that was helpful trying to figure it out. Then I worked my way down to shorter boards. They have a cool montage in the movie that shows how I worked down to a shorter board.

Did all of Hawaii have your back when you were giving surfing another try?

My family was really supportive and I have a lot of friends who are very supportive, too, even outside Hawaii. It's really nice. (I'm often asked) how did getting your arm bit off by a shark feel? I can't really describe it, but in the movie the portrayal of the shark attack was really cool. I mean accurate, not cool! (Laughs.)

How hard was it trying to relearn everyday activities?

There are frustrating and challenging moments, but I was 13 and kind of innovative and determined to figure things out. It took a lot of time. I got pretty creative.

How have you liked Florida so far?

Florida has been a lot of work, so it's been hard to enjoy. The weather has been nice but it's kind of cold; obviously I've been used to warmer weather.

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