Soul Surfer - Bethany Hamilton interview (exclusive)
Interview by Rob Carnevale
BETHANY Hamilton talks about some of the process of making Soul Surfer, the film about her life, and working hard to ensure it was an accurate reflection of her experiences.
She also talks about her faith in God and maintaining it in the immediate aftermath of the shark attack that claimed her arm at the age of 14, getting to meet and be star-struck by Justin Bieber and what she continues to love about surfing in general.
Q. What was it like for you watching Soul Surfer for the first time?
Bethany Hamilton: Well, I kind of watched it in the process of being made, even through the editing. The first time I watched it I was stoked but then I didn’t really think the surfing was good enough, so I made them do another trip to Tahiti… well I didn’t make them, I asked them [laughs]. And so we got more surfing footage added. And yeah, I’m so happy with the finished product.
Q. Does it feel weird watching you life unfold on the screen? Or even watching it being re-made before your very eyes?
Bethany Hamilton: Definitely weird. At the same time, it doesn’t really feel like it’s your life even though it is, kind of. So, I just would try to be there, to offer support and to help keep it accurate.
Q. When the idea of making a Hollywood version of your life-story first got spoken about were you careful about who did it?
Bethany Hamilton: Yeah, it took a few years to figure that out. But as soon as I met Sean McNamara, the director, I thought he was the right person immediately. On the first day I met him he was really awesome – really down to Earth and natural and very cool. He wanted to keep my story as true and natural as it is.
Q. Was it important to you to be able to do the surfing double scenes?
Bethany Hamilton: Yeah. I was stoked to be doing stunt surfing and of course I wanted to do my own.
Q. How was working with AnnaSophia Robb, who plays you?
Bethany Hamilton: Working with AnnaSophia was really awesome. We’ve become reall good friends. As soon as she found out she’d got the part she started training at home and then came out to Hawaii. My surf coach and I taught her how to surf and just got her acquainted with the ocean. She’s from Colorado, which is inland. So, we helped her to get comfortable out there and look like she knows what she’s doing on a surfboard.
Q. Did she take to it naturally?
Bethany Hamilton: Yeah, she did pretty good.
Q. What do you love about surfing?
Bethany Hamilton: I just love being on the ocean and being creative on the waves and the feeling you get when you’re surfing. All around it’s beautiful and fun.
Q. So, what’s been the most exhilarating surf you’ve ever done?
Bethany Hamilton: Probably surfing the winter swells in Hawaii. It’s good surf.
Q. You’ve become an inspiration to so many people. How do you stay grounded within that context?
Bethany Hamilton: I just try to be myself and not conform to something I’m not and just continue doing what I do. I don’t know, I just try not to think about the fact that I’m an inspiration for people [laughs].
Q. What’s been the most humbling reaction you’ve had from a fan?
Bethany Hamilton: I don’t know. I guess it’s daily. It’s a constant thing that’s happening daily. I guess when people are going through something… or when people start crying – that’s kind of intimidating.
Q. You obviously have a very strong faith and belief in God. Did the actual experience of losing your arm shake your faith at all? Or were you strong throughout?
Bethany Hamilton: I think the incident helped me grow stronger in trusting that God’s in control. I had just been praying that God would use me beyond my surfing because I felt like my surfing was doing so well but I didn’t want my life to just be about surfing. So, yeah, it was kind of weird. I immediately had peace about it. I wasn’t freaking out, so it’s cool how that worked out.
Q. Do you get a lot of questions from the more sceptical-minded people? For instance, those that question God’s existence in the face of losing a child to cancer or providing you with such a challenge to have to overcome at such a young age?
Bethany Hamilton: Yeah. I think… not necessarily from the sceptics. People in general are like: “Well, wouldn’t you be mad at God?” But I’m like: “Look what God has done…” I should be thankful, first of all, that I’m alive, because I lost over 50% of my blood, plus an arm. And then look at all the good that has come out of this, like being able to share my story. I’m still surfing, I’m a pro surfer and I’m still being able to share my story above and beyond and encourage people. So, yeah, it totally wasn’t what I expected for my life. But it’s awesome how everything has worked out and I trust that God knows what He’s doing. And the fact is life’s not perfect. None of us are going to have perfect lives. Our own vision of what we think is good maybe different from what He thinks. And we forget that. We think we know what’s best and we don’t.
Q. You’re a celebrity in your own right, but do you ever get star-struck? I mean what was it like having Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt play your father and mother in Soul Surfer?
Bethany Hamilton: I’m actually not that star-struck. There’s been a few people that I’ve been pretty excited to meet, like Justin Bieber [laughs]. But that’s about it. The others I was stoked to meet but I like to give people their own space and admire them from a distance.
Q. When did you meet Justin Bieber?
Bethany Hamilton: I went to the Do Something Awards in California recently and I just bumped into him and said ‘hi’ real quick.
Q. Did he know who you were?
Bethany Hamilton: I think he did, yeah… we have a mutual friend. So, I just asked him about that person.
Q. How was the reality of working with Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt?
Bethany Hamilton: Well, we didn’t really work with the actors. We got to know them and say ‘hi’ and have dinner and stuff like that. But it was more about working on the script and working with the writers and the producers and stuff like that. It was challenging. But everyone was really cool and we made a lot of good friends. But at the same time, there were heated moments and we’d go back and forth in trying to figure out how to re-write scenes or come up with a better way to portray that particular whatever it was.
Q. How did you decide when to change things – such as going to Thailand with your youth group in the film, when actually you went to Mexico with them in real life…
Bethany Hamilton: I went to Mexico with my youth group and my brother and dad went with me to Thailand, so that was a bit of a switch-up. But I didn’t really mind that. I don’t think it really affected the feeling of what actually happened. And that’s really what ultimately matters – the emotions and feelings that you experienced and people around you experienced. But Thailand was a ‘rad’ trip. It was so cool and I was glad we got to share that in the movie.
Q. You seem so busy in terms of your commitments – from running charities to pro surfing to publicity – so how do you maintain a healthy work-life balance?
Bethany Hamilton: I don’t even know how. My family helps manage me and keeps my schedule. They kind of filter things…
Q. How important is your family in your life?
Bethany Hamilton: They’re very supportive. If it wasn’t for my family the movie probably wouldn’t have turned out as good as it did. We were very active and stood firm in what we believed in and how we wanted the movie portrayed. They’re also very supportive of my surfing career and my daily life.
Q. What’s been the biggest lesson for you personally to have come from the whole experience?
Bethany Hamilton: Oh that’s a good question! I don’t know if I’ve got that one. I guess just learning to have patience with people because you just have to take it one step at a time in everything that you’re doing and just invest time in the people that you’re with… have patience with them, even if they’re not necessarily the easiest person to work with.
Q. But you had to have patience with yourself too during the recovery process… especially when it came to the technical process of rediscovering your balance on the board?
Bethany Hamilton: Yeah definitely, especially in terms of working at it physically and training and stuff.
Q. What’s your training regime like nowadays?
Bethany Hamilton: It’s pretty good. It’s kind of been hard with the travelling schedule and adapting to travelling. But when I’m home I’ll surf for like two to five hours a day and then I’ll stretch. I have trainers that I train with… physical strength training and stuff. I also do other sports like tennis and I’ll go on long runs and stuff like that.
Q. Finally, what’s your favourite response to Soul Surfer so far?
Bethany Hamilton: I don’t really have a favourite one. One of the surfing magazines ran a good piece on the film, so that was cool that the surf community liked it.