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Bethany Hamilton (Soul Surfer) Interview

Bethany Hamilton (Soul Surfer) Interview

by Maria Pilkington, 27 September 2011

A shark attack isn’t something most of us could ever imagine happening, never-mind a 13 year old who’s on her way to becoming a champion surfer and considers the sea her second home. That’s just how old Bethany Hamilton was when she lost her arm to a shark during a routine session in the water near her home in Hawaii. Ever defiant, less than a month after the attack she was back surfing and has gone on to have a successful surfing career as well as becoming an inspiration to millions around the world.

Her memoir Soul Surfer (the title was conjured up by her dad) is now a big screen adaptation by Sean Macnamara with AnnaSophia Robb playing the lead, and Helen Hunt, Dennis Quaid and Carrie Underwood among the supporting cast. Having been a huge success in the States, Bethany is currently on a European promotional tour and I caught up with her during the London leg.

Ninety minutes seems such a short time to fit everything that’s happened in - are you happy with the way the film’s turned out?

Well, you never really know what you’re gonna get when you combine Hollywood with a true story, but after seeing it I’m so happy with it. There was so much to combine – the accident, surfing, my faith – it makes the odds of it turning out good really low, but both my family and I are just stoked with how it’s all come together.

What do you think of AnnaSophia’s performance?

She was actually my suggestion. I’d seen her in several films like Bridge of Terabithia and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and thought she could play me really well. She visited me in Hawaii and my surf coach and I taught her how to surf, so she at least looked like she knew what she was doing! And we’re now really good friends.

And what do your friends and family think about it?

My friends laugh about it – they know the real me! But everything was so authentic and most of the scenes were based on something that actually happened so there’s been no complaints. I can only think of a couple of things that were totally made up actually; the arch rivalry with a fellow surfer. I mean, the character in the film is fictional, but the rivalries are very real. The family on screen is very true to life though – they’re very fun and close to each other, as are we. My mum was quite happy that she was played by Helen Hunt!

You did most of the stunt surfing yourself, didn’t you?

I did! The scenes after Bethany loses her arm, that’s all me – I was very insistent that I wanted to do the surfing for the rest of the film. I also have a cameo, where I walk past the camera during a scene in Thailand. Blink and you’ll miss me.

Did AnnaSophia feel pressure having you on the set?

I think she was okay about it – my two brothers were probably involved more than I was to be honest. But I guess us being friends actually enhanced her performance and her ability to play me.

Your memoirs were called Soul Surfer, and now the film. Where does the title come from?

It’s something my dad mentioned once, and I liked the ring to it. It just sounds really cool. But I don’t think too much about it – I don’t walk around thinking, ‘ooh I’m a soul surfer…’ It’s just a good title that fits.

So what’s next for Bethany Hamilton?

Well, hopefully some rest! And then just trying to be the best at surfing that I can. The season’s finished for this year, but next year I’ll be back at it. Also, I’m hopefully going to have my own reality show…but that’s a wait and see.

Lastly, what’s your favourite surfer film?

I like North Shore! That’s really funny.

Soul Surfer is out now.

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