On October 31, 2003 a 14-foot tiger shark attacked Bethany Hamilton while she was surfing off Kauai’s North Shore. This is the dramatized story of her indomitable spirit, her return to the sport she loves and her faith.
AnnaSophia Robb plays the blonde Hawaiian who was only thirteen at the time of the incident, but appears to be older in this adaptation. Bethany, along with her friend Alana Blanchard (played by Jack Nicholson’s daughter Lorraine) are inseparable water buddies who are homeschooled by Bethany’s mom (Helen Hunt) in order to give them more time to surf. With a recent win under their belts and a major competition only weeks away, the girls look for every opportunity to practice their sport.
One idyllic island day (that looked particularly inviting to those who had to trek through a winter snow storm to get to the screening) Bethany joins Alana for an early morning outing. But lurking in the pristine waters off the secluded beach is a trolling predator drawn to the sound of the surfers’ splashing. Silently and without warning, it attacks, biting off Bethany’s arms and leaving her bleeding profusely. Rushed to the hospital by Alana’s brother and father (Kevin Sorbo), the young teen survives despite losing nearly 60% of her blood. Now she must face the painful process of physical and emotional recovery.
Luckily for Bethany, she is surrounded by friends, supportive parents (Hunt and Dennis Quaid) and two older brothers (Ross Thomas, Chris Brochu). Even the family’s physician (Craig T. Nelson) greets his favorite patient with an affectionate kiss on the top of her head. The teenager also belongs to a strong religious community and has a youth leader (Carrie Underwood) who buoys her up when the reality of her new situation crashes down on her like a rogue wave. Without being overly preachy, this script emphasizes the strength and perspective Bethany gains from her Christian beliefs. It is something she needs as she learns to do things with one hand and faces the inquisitive stares of reporters and strangers.
Strong performances by many cast members and some heartfelt scenes (as when Bethany gets her first real look at the stump of her arm) help create genuine emotion in this story and a deeper appreciation for the impressive attitude of this young surfer. As well, the accomplished boarding skills of the young competitors make this film a fun watch.
Given the nature of the attack, the film portrayal is not overly graphic, although the ocean water surrounding the young girl fills with blood following the amputation. Other scenes of blood and a dead shark may disturb some audience members as well.
In this story, Bethany’s will to overcome her physical challenges, and the best intentions of adults who want to protect her from further pain and disappointment, is inspiring for many child amputees and others with physical difficulties. As well, this movie adaptation of the young surfer’s comeback will likely touch many teen and adult viewers who are eager for an uplifting and engaging family film.