A 13-year-old surfing star had her left arm bitten off by a shark while surfing in clear water Friday morning on Kauai’s North Shore, and her best friend’s father was credited with saving her life by using a surf leash as a tourniquet.
Bethany Hamilton, who has competed in national surfing contests and was expected to go professional, was surfing a quarter-mile off Makua Beach near Haena, in an area known as Tunnels, when the attack occurred about 7:30 a.m., said Cyndi Ozaki, spokeswoman for Kauai County. Her arm had not been recovered, Ozaki said.
Tom Hamilton said his daughter was alert and in stable condition Friday afternoon. Doctors at Wilcox Memorial Hospital said her top condition as a competitive athlete helped her survive the attack.
“Nobody saw it happen,” he said. “She just yelled, ‘A shark bit me!’ ”
Hamilton, of Princeville, lost her left arm just below the shoulder.
The girl was surfing with her best friend, Alana Blanchard, also 13, when the attack occurred, the Hamilton family said.
Alana’s father, Holt Blanchard, who was also surfing with the girls, immediately applied a tourniquet to Hamilton’s arm using the surf leash, the statement said.
Witnesses told firefighters that Hamilton was lying on her board in clear water when the shark attacked, according to Battalion Chief Bob Kaden. There was a single bite, and then the shark disappeared.
“There was no warning,” he said.
Hamilton is a competitive surfer who already had secured sponsorships and was expected to go pro, according to the Hanalei Surf Online Web site.
In August she won the explorer women’s division of the National Scholastic Surfing Assn.'s Open and Explorer event on Kauai. In May, she won the women’s division at the Local Motion-Ezekiel Surf Into Summer contest at Ala Moana on Oahu, beating out older surfers.
Ozaki said county lifeguards from Hanalei were out on personal watercraft after the attack, warning people in the water about the shark.
The size of the bite was estimated to be 16 inches long and 8 inches wide, which suggests the attack was by a shark that was 12 to 15 feet long, Kaden said.
Randy Honebrink, spokesman for the state Shark Task Force, said it was possible that it was a tiger shark.
“That’s the most likely culprit,” he said. “They’re the most likely to be capable of inflicting that type of injury.”