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It’s Nothing Short of Remarkable

Times Staff Writer

Bethany Hamilton won’t emerge as the women’s national amateur champion when winners of Saturday’s competition at Lower Trestles are announced at tonight’s award banquet.

That honor will fall again to Carissa Moore, the 12-year-old prodigy from Honolulu, who followed up last year’s triumph in the National Scholastic Surfing Assn.'s prestigious Open division with an even more electrifying performance.

That Hamilton, 15, was able to advance to the Open division final was a remarkable achievement -- triumph enough as far as many at the San Clemente surf spot were concerned.

One can’t help but wonder how Hamilton might have fared had she enjoyed the same advantages as the other surfers -- namely two arms.

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“She’s doing something that’s never been done in the history of surfing,” says her father, Tom. “I’m not boasting. It’s just the truth.”

Hamilton, like Moore, stood out early in her career. Then came a highly publicized shark attack on Halloween morning in 2003, near her home in Princeville, Kauai.

Her left arm was severed beneath the shoulder as she lay stunned in the lineup. Byron Blanchard, brother of Alana, one of Bethany’s surf mates, and his father, Holt, helped her toward shore. Holt recalled Saturday that he didn’t think Hamilton would survive, having lost so much blood.

What wasn’t widely publicized is that Tom Hamilton was on a hospital operating table being prepped for knee surgery when news arrived that there had been a shark attack and that he would have to relinquish the table.

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“They told me it was a 13-year-old girl and where she had been surfing and I knew it had to be either Alana or Bethany,” he said. “But in my gut I knew it was Bethany.”

He knew for sure when the doctor returned to the operating room in tears. “But he reassured me that she would survive,” Tom added.

Few thought Hamilton would surf again, much less compete. “Back then I was just happy to be alive,” Bethany said after congratulating Moore.

Moore called Hamilton “an inspiration” and Blanchard, who was surfing with Hamilton on the day of the attack, added, “Whenever I’m having a bad day I just think about Bethany.”

Hamilton shies away from this. She wants merely to be known as a person and says that she has made great strides in her surfing since her appearance last summer in the Open division final. Her handicap, she says, is more obvious to others than it is to her.

She paddles with a rhythmic, lunging motion and advanced to Saturday’s final on the strength of a high-scoring left-breaking wave in Friday’s competition, a wave on which she made a series of top turns and cutbacks.

On Saturday, she arrived with an entourage that included the maker of a line of perfume and cologne Hamilton is selling, and a high-profile movie producer who will tell her story in a feature film scheduled for release this fall.

Tom Hamilton refers to his daughter as a “reluctant celebrity” and she did seem much more comfortable in the water, away from all the attention.

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The movie will reportedly bear the same name as her book: “Soul Surfer,” a title that suits her just fine.

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Amateur surfers from across the country will compete Monday through Thursday in Huntington Beach. They will be vying for spots on the 2005 USA surf team, which will participate in the International Surfing Assn.'s World Junior Championships in October, also in Huntington Beach.


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