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Culture Documentary

No wave too high

Bethany Hamilton and her son (Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures)


No wave too high

Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable offers a closer look at the famous surfer’s inspiring life story

Even as a 13-year-old, Bethany Hamilton was a determined person: She was back on a surfboard four weeks after losing her left arm to a shark. Hamilton became famous through her book Soul Surfer and the 2011 movie of the same name. While she’s proud of that film, the competitive surfer wanted to tell more of her story—warts and all. The result is the new documentary Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable.

Tom and Cheri Hamilton raised their family on the island of Kauai, with surfing a major part of their lives. Young Bethany and her friend Alana Blanchard attacked the waves with gusto and began to win local competitions. The Hamiltons filmed much of Bethany’s childhood, on the water and at home, and this archival footage rounds out her story. In one prescient scene, Bethany’s mom asks her, “Aren’t you scared of sharks?”

“No!” the little girl responds. “You just pray about it.”

After Beth loses her arm to a massive tiger shark, a video shows the huge bite taken out of her surfboard. Her survival despite major blood loss is miraculous, and her recovery is quick. In one scene, as a partially disabled surfer visits Beth in the hospital, viewers can sense her young mind churning with the possibilities of getting back out on the water.

Despite the odds against a one-armed athlete, Hamilton becomes a professional surfer, winning competitions through gritty willpower and lots of practice. When she finds out she’s pregnant, she worries how she’ll be a good mom with one arm. Later scenes show her easily caring for her little boy, nursing between heats in a competition, and changing a diaper with the aid of both feet.

Unstoppable doesn’t make a big deal of the Hamiltons’ Christian faith, although we see prayer before a competition and other glimpses of their Christian walk. Viewers will leave amazed at how God can use even a tragic accident for good.