Before the attack, Hamilton was a rising surfing star and her parents were working multiple jobs to support her surfing. Her story has not lacked for media treatment, but this film has new home videos from her younger years that add texture. Hamilton’s dad dug through their attic and found a dusty box of videos for Lieber, and at one point Lieber recovered videos from a failed drive. He ended up with 400 hours of old videos.
In one of those home videos from before the attack, Bethany Hamilton’s mom Cheri Hamilton is talking to young Bethany and her best friend and fellow surfer Alana Blanchard.
“Are you concerned about sharks at all?” the mom asks. Blanchard puts a magazine over her face in response.
“Yes,” said Bethany. “You just pray.”
Blanchard was surfing with Bethany when the shark attacked her. Lieber said the attack seemed to have traumatized Blanchard more than Bethany—when he, Blanchard, and Bethany were swimming with sharks at one point during filming, he recalled that Blanchard was more scared than Bethany and felt nauseous afterward.
A month after the attack, Bethany slowly started surfing again, her dad figuring out a board modification so she could grip the board while paddling past the breakers. In 2005, she won a national championship, thanking Jesus Christ by name when she received the trophy.
In the decade since, she has continued professional surfing and making the media rounds with her story, even while she fell agonizingly short of championships for some time while her contemporaries went on to dominate.
In 2013 Hamilton married Young Life staffer Adam Dirks, whom she met through church friends in Hawaii. Not long after their marriage she found out she was pregnant, raising her anxiety about how she would change a diaper or cradle her baby. She continued surfing through pregnancy, with Dirks as the dutiful dad who would join her for surf sessions too. They now have two children, and say they do “ministry together.”
A few months after giving birth to her first child, Bethany decided that she wanted to ride the surf break in Hawaii called Jaws, a spot that consistently has some of the biggest waves in the world. Experienced big wave surfers say Jaws scares them. Lieber and his camera went along for the ride.
The day she went out, with Dirks in a nearby boat and the baby with a baby sitter, the waves were 40 feet high. Lieber’s experience as a surf filmmaker was key at this moment, capturing incredible footage of Bethany taking on a skyscraper wave. Some of these passages come across as a slick surfing ad for Bethany Hamilton, but she seems worth advertising.