Soul Surfer tells the story of Bethany Hamilton (AnnaSophia Robb), who was born into a devout Christian family of surfers in Hawaii in 1990. She began surfing at the age of four. In October 2003 Bethany chose not to go with her youth group on a mission and stayed home to practice for a competition.
While surfing with her best friend, Alana (Lorraine Nicholson), and Alana’s dad, Holt (Kevin Sorbo), she was attacked by a 14-foot tiger shark that swam off with a chunk of her surfboard and most of her left arm. Holt saved her life by quick thinking and action.
Bethany’s mom, Cheri (Helen Hunt), and dad, Tom (Dennis Quaid), met the ambulance at the hospital. Brothers Noah (Ross Thomas) and Timmy (Chris Brochu) joined family and friends in pulling together for Bethany. But it was Bethany’s youth minister, Sarah (Carrie Underwood), who really inspired Bethany when she told her that God had something in store for her.
In December 2004 a tsunami struck Southeast Asia. Though still healing, and unsure of what she would do next, Bethany accompanied her church group to Thailand to help. As Bethany coached a frightened young child to learn to swim, she became determined to help others and to continue surfing—and one day turn pro. A year later she entered her first competition since the accident and never looked back.
A “soul surfer” is a person who surfs for the sheer pleasure of it. Stunning and compelling documentaries such as Dana Brown’s 2003 Step Into Liquid, about soul surfer Laird Hamilton (no relation to Bethany), renewed the profile of surfing, raising it to an art form.
While director Sean McNamara and writer Deborah Schwartz are telling a more focused story based on Bethany’s best-selling book, it is just as inspiring and moving. Themes of family, faith and friends prevail, but the strong undercurrent of the film is about looking beyond to see life in new ways, to see others.
Some of the surfing sequences are powerful—though a couple scenes are a bit contrived. Robb learned how to surf for the film and gives a lovely performance. This is fine family viewing, though the shark attack is harrowing.
For more information on Soul Surfer, go to the film’s Web site here.