In 2011, the biopic Soul Surfer portrayed a 13-year-old Bethany Hamilton returning to surfing after her famous 2003 shark attack, which led to her losing an arm. But now, in the new documentary Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable, the surfer gets to tell her story in her own words. And naturally, one of the best things about Unstoppable is getting to learn where Bethany Hamilton is in 2018, as the movie includes footage of the athlete not only catching waves, but spending time with her husband and two young sons.
"I loved Soul Surfer and I thought it was such a good portrayal of that time in my life, but this will carry in some motherhood too," Hamilton says about the new film when we chat around Unstoppable's Tribeca Film Festival release. In 2013, the surfer married Adam Dirks, and she became pregnant with their first son, Tobias, in 2015. In March 2018, she gave birth to their second child, Wesley, who sleeps nearby while Hamilton chats with Bustle. Despite that recent event, the surfer already has plans to get back in the water. "I think I'll be competing in September," she says. "That will be six months [after giving birth] so I got a little work to do, get my core back strong."
For anyone who sees Unstoppable, Hamilton's determination won't come as a surprise since the film shows her traveling the world alongside her husband to attend surfing competitions with Tobias shortly after his birth. Nothing could stop Hamilton from competing in a big surfing competition in Fiji, for instance, so she fit in time to nurse her son in between her rounds.
But as fun as it is to watch baby Tobias grow from an infant to a toddler, the best moments in Unstoppable are when you see Hamilton take on legendary, monstrous waves. Frequently throughout the movie, the surfer's former coaches, friends, and opponents doubt her ability to compete in certain competitions given the difficulty that comes with surfing with just one arm, but Hamilton never lets it stop her. "It just feels good to supersede the doubts," she says now, before adding, "Not that that's what drives me at all. My drive comes from my passion and desire and not changing people's doubts."
While Hamilton acknowledges that surfing with one arm does make her job more difficult, she tries not to focus on that disadvantage. At one point in Unstoppable, she even declines a nomination for the 2016 ESPY award for Best Female Athlete with a Disability. "I just couldn't receive the award joyfully," she explains now. "I really just don't like the word 'disabled.'" Instead, she prefers the term "adaptive," saying, "It all comes back to the mind, so if you think you're disabled then you are gonna be held back by that. If I thought that I was totally disabled, I probably wouldn't have ever surfed again, but I adapted to my situation and figured out how to do it."
Still, having one arm does impact her life in some unavoidable ways. "For example, I get on the airplane and I'm not allowed to sit in the exit row, but I think I would do a really good job taking that door off the plane," Hamilton says. Yet it's clear from Unstoppable that the surfer doesn't let anything get in her way of continually challenging herself. "There are things I've done like [catching huge waves] that I'm so stoked on, and even with two arms [I'd be] like, 'whoa that's so sick,'" Hamilton says. The documentary shows her frequently out-surfing her competitors, like at the aforementioned Fiji competition at which Hamilton beat the No. 1 ranked surfer at the time. She'd gotten into the competition as a wildcard entry, and she easily proved she belonged.
As upbeat as Hamilton's attitude is, though, Unstoppable also shows the surfer during some of her most challenging times, like when she struggles to keep up with friends she surfed with before the accident. "I know that I can overcome really tough times but there are also just moments when you have doubts or struggles, so I like that [the doc] will show the more real version of me," she says now.
Mostly, however, Hamilton is focused on the positive. "The life I have now with one arm is, I think, so much more awesome," she says. "Even if I'd kept my two arms, I'd have a lot of success with surfing, [but] it just might not have had the same impact that it has had... the challenge of doing it all with one arm, that's really exciting, and there's no one else really doing what I'm doing. I'm like, in my own genre."
Hamilton attributes a great deal of her positive attitude to her faith, which she wants to help young women to foster as well. She even has an app coming out that she explains will "counterbalance this culture of social media which... leaves a lot of girls insecure and condescended."
The surfer also has a coffee table book with uplifting quotes called Be Unstoppable: The Art of Never Giving Up that's set to come out on June 5. All of these new business ventures and events like her son's birth don't mean that Hamilton is done with surfing, though. Far from it. "I'm gonna keep working on certain things," she says, before adding, "I know that I"m gonna get better and keep going for it." She really is unstoppable.