Surfer returns to water after shark attack

Posted: Tuesday, March 23, 2004

KAHUKU, Hawaii With a surfboard tucked under her right arm and securely leashed to her ankle, Bethany Hamilton paused before stepping into the churning Pacific.

She wasn't reluctant to enter the ocean just months after a shark bit off most of her left arm just the opposite. She couldn't wait to get back in the water.

''I pray before I go out,'' she said.

Bethany, 14, competed over the weekend in the National Scholastic Surfing Association Hawaii Regional Championships on Oahu's North Shore. It was her third competition since the Oct. 31 attack off the North Shore of Kauai, her hometown.

She struggled to catch a wave in choppy 3-foot seas Saturday and failed to advance in her division but still managed a smile and a thumbs-up as she came out of the ocean. She did reach the semifinals of the Women's Open on Sunday.

Bethany can't push herself up and paddle out as well as she used to. But balancing while she's on the board is not a problem.

''Once I'm up, I'm OK,'' she said.

The teen still is enthralled by surfing and would do it everyday if she could.

''I love everything about it, except for when I'm not getting good waves,'' she said.

Bethany was already a well-known surfer on Kauai's North Shore when the shark attacked her on Halloween morning. She was on her board just off the shore, when the shark bit into her left arm. Fellow surfers saved her, pulling her to shore and using a surf leash as a tourniquet.

Bethany lost more than half her blood and all but four inches of her arm, but witnesses say she never screamed nor panicked.

Tom Hamilton said his daughter's faith helped her overcome the tragedy. And she has become an inspiration even to those outside the surfing community.

''After a while the attention wears on her, but there's just no way of getting away from it,'' he said.

Just her presence at a surfing event is an inspiration.

''I would've stopped surfing if that happened to me,'' 17-year-old surfer Chris Satterfield said. ''She's just gnarly.

''She's back out there, and that's super heavy.''

Bobbi Lee, director of the NSSA Hawaii region, said Bethany offered extra time to paddle out, but she declined, insisting on being treated like other competitors.

''Every surfer's biggest fear is a shark, and what happened to her is what they fear,'' Lee said. ''But she's also proof to them that life goes on, and you can still do the sport and you can still smile.''

Bethany remains a top-ranked surfer in Hawaii. She received a wild-card invitation to compete in the nationals at San Clemente, Calif., in June.

Last year, she placed second in the open division at nationals. Her father is impressed by his daughter's competitiveness, her attitude and her athleticism.

''People used to call her the Michelle Wie of surfing,'' he said, referring to the 14-year-old golfing sensation from Honolulu. ''That was before she got bit by a shark.''

A movie and book about Bethany are in the works, but nothing has been confirmed, her father said.

Bethany always thought she could become a star, she said, ''maybe as a surfer, but not this way.''



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