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Soul Surfer: History vs. Hollywood

Cast: AnnaSophia Robb, Dennis Quaid, Helen Hunt, Carrie Underwood | based on the book "Soul Surfer" by Bethany Hamilton

AnnaSophia Robb
Born: December 8, 1993
Denver, Colorado, USA
Bethany Hamilton
Born: February 8, 1990
Birthplace: Lihue, Kauai, Hawaii, USA
Dennis Quaid
Born: April 9, 1954
Houston, Texas, USA
Thomas Hamilton
Born: September 13, 1948
Birthplace: Ocean City, New Jersey, USA
Helen Hunt
Born: June 15, 1963
Los Angeles, California, USA
Cheri Hamilton
Born: February 14
Lorraine Nicholson
Born: April 16, 1990
Los Angeles, California, USA
Alana Blanchard
Born: March 5, 1990
Birthplace: Kauai, Hawaii, USA
Carrie Underwood
Born: March 10, 1983
Checotah, Oklahoma, USA
Sarah Hill
Birthplace: San Diego, California, USA
Kevin Sorbo
Born: September 24, 1958
Mound, Minnesota, USA
Holt Blanchard
Ross Thomas
Born: August 21, 1981
Stockton, California, USA
Noah Hamilton
Born: December 7, 1981
Birthplace: Kauai, Hawaii, USA
Chris Brochu
Nashville, Tennessee, USA
Timothy Hamilton
Born: June 14, 1986
Birthplace: Kauai, Hawaii, USA
Yes, God allowed it. But at the same time so much good has come out of it. I've been able to encourage so many people going through hard times, people who've survived crazy accidents like mine, losing a limb. - Bethany Hamilton (Orlando Sentinel, April 5, 2011)

Questioning the Story:

How old was surfer Bethany Hamilton when she was attacked by a shark?

Like in the movie, the Soul Surfer true story confirms that Bethany was 13-years-old on Friday, October 31, 2003, when the shark attack occurred at Tunnels Beach on the North Shore of Kauai.

Read Bethany Hamilton's bestselling book that inspired the movie.

Was Bethany's real-life dog in the movie Soul Surfer?

Yes. Her pet shar-pei named Hanalei, "Hana" for short, played the role of the late Ginger. And yes, Ginger checked out Bethany's injury when she got home.

Was the real Bethany Hamilton homeschooled?

Yes. In Bethany Hamilton's documentary titled Heart of a Soul Surfer, she said that after finishing sixth grade at the Hanalei School, she began homeschooling to free up time to surf. The only other option was to travel to Kapa'a High School about 40 minutes away. Bethany's older brothers Noah and Timmy both attended Kapa'a and graduated in 2000 (Facebook) and 2004 ( respectively.

Did Alana Blanchard and Bethany go night surfing before the shark attack?

Yes. According to Holt Blanchard, the two girls had been surfing at Tunnels the night before and were the last ones to come back into shore.

Bethany and her friend Alana Blanchard a couple weeks before the attack.

Was Bethany's father, Tom Hamilton, already at the hospital for knee surgery?

Yes. According to Bethany Hamilton's Soul Surfer book, her father was at Wilcox Memorial Hospital in Lihue for surgery that morning. His legs had already been anesthetized and he was in the operating room waiting to begin. It was then that a nurse entered informing the orthopedic surgeon, Dr. David Rovinsky, that the room was needed for a 13-year-old girl shark attack victim. A short time later he was told that it was his daughter.

Who was Bethany Hamilton surfing with the day she was attacked by a shark?

The Bethany Hamilton true story reveals that Halloween morning she had gone out to surf with her mom Cheri Hamilton at Pauaeaka but found that the conditions weren't favorable, so they decided to check out Tunnels. Just as they arrived, her best friend and fellow surfer Alana Blanchard, as well as Alana's brother Byron and father Holt Blanchard, showed up at the beach. She ended up staying while her mother decided to leave, and the four of them paddled out together. -Soul Surfer book

What do her parents, Tom and Cheri Hamilton, do for a living?

At the time of the attack, Tom was working as a waiter at the Princeville Hotel and Cheri was delivering tourism magazines as well as cleaning rental condos. -Soul Surfer Behind the Scenes Youthworker Guide

Bethany Hamilton's parents, Cheri and Tom Hamilton, with her dog. Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt as her dad and mom in the movie.

Did the Hamilton family attend church services in a tent?

Yes. As confirmed during our research into the Soul Surfer true story, the family attends the North Shore Christian Church, which holds outdoor services in a tent. Youth counselor Sarah Hill (portrayed by Carrie Underwood) currently works for this church.

Did Byron break into his father's truck to get a phone to call for help?

Yes. The Soul Surfer real story reveals that he did call 911 for an ambulance but did not call her mother as depicted in the Soul Surfer movie. Jeff Waba, a family friend who had been at Tunnels that morning, called her mom and informed her of the shark attack. A short while later, Holt called Cheri to tell her the extent of Bethany's injury. -Soul Surfer book

How did two-armed actress AnnaSophia Robb play one-armed surfer Bethany Hamilton?

Robb wore a green sleeve and prosthetic in virtually every scene. By having her hide her arm as best she could in each shot, as well as recording the surrounding area, they were able to digitally remove her arm in post production.

Does Bethany Hamilton view the shark attack as a blessing?

She believes it was a blessing in disguise. "I definitely would allow the shark attack to happen. The thing for me is like I know that God allowed it to happen and because of all the good stuff that has come from this terrible experience. I'm still surfing, loving life and being able to reach people a lot more than I would have probably with two arms."

The real Bethany Hamilton (left) on Oprah and actress AnnaSophia Robb (right) in the film.

Where were Bethany's brothers, Timmy and Noah Hamilton, during the attack?

Bethany Hamilton's real story chronicled in her Heart of a Soul Surfer book says that Timmy Hamilton was in the library at the high school and Noah was asleep at home. -Soul Surfer book

Did Bethany's dad drive through their home's bushes to escape reporters like in the Soul Surfer movie?

No. As revealed by the Bethany Hamilton true story, the family opted to stay at a rental beach house in Anahola for a while, rather than dealing with the reporters who were waiting at their home. -Heart of a Soul Surfer Documentary

Was cutting a tomato the first thing Bethany tried to do once she got home?

No, however, the real Bethany Hamilton has become a pro at cutting fruit with the aid of her feet! She holds the fruit steady between her feet while sitting on the floor and then cuts them. -Bethany Hamilton Facebook

When did Bethany start surfing again?

A few weeks after the shark attack, surfer Bethany Hamilton got back in the water to surf. The date was November 26, 2003, the day before Thanksgiving. She stood up on her third wave and road it all the way into shore. -Heart of a Soul Surfer Documentary

Top: Bethany Hamilton on her surfboard in real life. Bottom: Actress AnnaSophia Robb in the movie.

What inspired the real Sarah Hill to become a youth counselor?

Shortly after high school, Sarah Hill (portrayed by Carrie Underwood) was in a surfing accident that nearly left her paralyzed. This helped her find her path in life and she soon began her studies in theology, completing an Associate's Degree at Calvary Chapel Bible College. After a mission trip to Kauai, she decided that was where she belonged and ultimately made the move there. She has since founded Kauai Child and a number of youth groups on the North Shore. Carrie Underwood portrays her in the movie.

Bethany Hamilton pictured with Sarah Hill (Carrie Underwood in the movie) shortly after the shark attack claimed her left arm. Photo: Bethany Hamilton Facebook

Did Bethany's heart stop beating like in the movie?

No, but she did lose 60% of her blood.

Was the shark that attacked Bethany ever caught?

Yes, they believe so. About two weeks after the Bethany Hamilton shark attack and numerous reports of a shark coming in, Bill Hamilton and Ralph Young, two Hanalei fishermen, baited and caught a 13-foot 6-inch tiger shark that weighed in at over 1500 pounds. Only the bait shark was found in the tiger shark's stomach, but the 17-inch bite mark left on her surfboard was a match.

The tiger shark they believe attacked her.

Did surfer Alana Blanchard drop in on Malina Birch during a surf competition?

No. The Soul Surfer true story reveals that Malina Birch is a fictional character. She was used to depict a variety of competitors Bethany had encountered in her life. Actress Sonya Balmores Chung, who played Malina, is not only friends with the real Bethany Hamilton but is also known for being first runner-up in Miss Teen USA 2004.

Did Bethany get so frustrated she gave away her surf boards?

No. The real Bethany Hamilton confirms the opposite; she stayed positive and let her faith in Jesus Christ guide the way. -Bethany Hamilton Facebook

When did Bethany go to help the Thailand tsunami victims?

She went to Phuket, Thailand August 27-31 of 2005 for World Vision and the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

Bethany doing charity work in Thailand with World Vision in 2005.

Did she teach the children there to surf?

Yes, but according to Bethany it was exaggerated a bit in the film. During her time in Thailand, she shared her story, raised awareness of disabilities and worked with orphans, encouraging them not to be afraid of the water. Ultimately, this led to many children and locals taking to the water and surfing. -The Daily Loaf

What are some of the charities Bethany supports?

Aside from working with World Vision, she has also founded the Friends of Bethany Hamilton, a non-profit organization that provides support to amputees and shark attack victims. She also works with Walking on Water, Beating the Odds Organization and the Foundation for a Better Life, among a number of others. See Bethany Hamilton's website for more information on these charitable organizations and how you can donate or help.

What is in the fruit smoothies Bethany makes?

According to the official Bethany Hamilton website, she doesn't really measure (and sometimes changes it up a bit) but these are good estimates of the ingredients in the smoothie she drinks to start her day.

1-2 Packets of Sambazon Acai Pure Unsweetened Smoothie Packs
1-2 Frozen Bananas
1 Cup Almond Milk
2 Tbsp Bee Pollen or Ground Flax Seed
1 Cup Apple Juice
Handful of Frozen Blueberries
Handful of Frozen Tropical Fruits like Mango, Pineapple and Papaya

Where is the surfboard now?

The infamous red, white and blue surfboard is displayed in the History of Women's Surfing section of the California Surf Museum in Oceanside, CA.

Bethany's surfboard after the shark attack. Photo:

What surf competitions did Bethany compete in after the shark attack?

As in the Soul Surfer true story movie, in January 2004 she placed fifth in the Open Women's Divison of the NSSA Regional Competition. A year later, in 2005, she won her first National title by placing first in the Explorer Women's Division of the 2005 NSSA National Championships. She went pro in 2007 and still competes today.

Does Bethany have a boyfriend?

At the time of the movie's release in 2011, Bethany said, "I don't have a boyfriend… Life's pretty hectic right now, and I'm not really in a rush. I'm really just excited to save my purity for marriage, and I'm not really hunting down any one person but just enjoying life." (ABC News Nightline Interview). Since the original posting of this article, Bethany got married in 2013 and currently has two children.

Bethany Hamilton and husband Adam Dirks in 2014. Photo: Bethany Hamilton Facebook

Does the real Bethany Hamilton or any of her family members make a cameo in Soul Surfer?

Yes. Aside from doing all of the one-armed stunt surfing, she also made a cameo in the film, as did the rest of her family members (The Daily Loaf). Youth counselor Sarah Hill also made an appearance alongside family friend and shark attack victim Mike Coots.

In the making of the movie Soul Surfer, how involved were Bethany and her family?

Bethany says, "It actually is a lot better than I'd even hoped for. We were scared, you never know what Hollywood's going to do when they get a true story...but we got to be a part of everything, from picking actors, to the script, to giving feedback on scenes, even in the editing room." (Toronto Sun) "My family and I were very involved throughout the whole process, as involved as possible in each scenario."

Bethany and AnnaSophia Robb. Photo: Studio Magazine

What is youth group leader Sarah Hill doing now?

The real Sarah Hill, portrayed by Carrie Underwood in the movie, is still inspiring people around her work as a youth counselor on Kauai, and she is also a makeup artist.

What are Bethany's brothers doing today?

Bethany's oldest brother, Noah Hamilton, married his longtime girlfriend Becky Baumgartner on May 31, 2009. He works as a photographer around the islands ( They also help manage Bethany's career.

Her brother Timmy Hamilton works in videography on movies and television shows filmed in Hawaii.

What is Bethany Hamilton doing today?

In addition to continuing to surf and compete, Bethany Hamilton got married in 2013 and subsequently had two children. She also does public speaking, and most recently, she completed a documentary about her life, including what has transpired since the events in the Soul Surfer movie. The documentary is titled Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable and was released in 2019.

Bethany Hamilton's Unstoppable Documentary chronicles her life, including what came after the events in the movie.

Soul Surfer Interviews & Related Video

Watch Bethany Hamilton interviews and other video exploring the true story behind Soul Surfer. Highlights include interviews with Bethany shortly after the shark attack, Bethany hanging out with the real Alana Blanchard, video from the set of the Soul Surfer movie, and her opinion of her onscreen counterpart, actress AnnaSophia Robb.

 2003 Bethany Hamilton Shark Attack Interview (Part 1)

Surfer Bethany Hamilton is profiled not long after the shark attack that took her arm on Halloween morning 2003. Her mother Cheri Hamilton, father Thomas Hamilton, and friend and witness Holt Blanchard are also interviewed.

 2003 Bethany Hamilton Shark Attack Interview (Part 2)

Part 2 of the 2003 Bethany Hamilton interview includes comments from her parents, the real Dr. David Rovinsky who treated Bethany, and a look at her recovery process and attitude after the attack. See video of her in the hospital and images of the suspected shark after it was captured.

 Bethany Hamilton Oprah Winfrey Interview

Bethany Hamilton is interviewed by Oprah Winfrey not long after the shark attack. She describes the attack and returning to surfing a mere four weeks later. She says that she had "no pain at all" when her arm was bitten off.

 Bethany Hamilton and the Real Alana Blanchard

Bethany Hamilton hangs out with the real Alana Blanchard, portrayed by Jack Nicholson's daughter Lorraine Nicholson in the movie. Alana, a pro surfer as well, talks about her friendship with Bethany.

 Bethany Hamilton's Opinion of the Movie

Bethany Hamilton and friend Alana Blanchard share their thoughts on the Soul Surfer movie, including what it was like hanging out with their onscreen counterparts AnnaSophia Robb and Lorraine Nicholson.

 Bethany Hamilton Childhood Clips and Photos

The real Bethany Hamilton shares her story, showing us that her love for surfing began when she was very young. Watch Bethany Hamilton home movie clips and see a pic of her former dog Ginger, portrayed by her current real-life dog Hanalei (Hana) in the movie.

 Bethany Hamilton on the Soul Surfer Set

Surfer Bethany Hamilton talks about her extensive involvement on the Soul Surfer movie set and what it's like having the real story of her life condensed into an hour and a half.

 Heart of a Soul Surfer Trailer (Documentary)

Watch the Heart of a Soul Surfer movie trailer for the documentary that tells the true story of the real Bethany Hamilton who lost her arm during a shark attack in 2003. Purchase the documentary in the column on the right.

 Soul Surfer Trailer

Soul Surfer Movie Trailer for the movie based on the real story of Bethany Hamilton, a surfer who lost her arm to a shark in 2003.

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