Surfer Bethany Hamilton aims to motivate girls with ‘Body and Soul’

Bethany Hamilton surfer
Surfer Bethany Hamilton, who lost an arm in a shark attack, says she was back on her board within a month. For her, it was a return to normality. She uses her “Body and Soul” story to motivate girls.
(Mike Coots)

Talk about a commitment to her sport: Bethany Hamilton lost her entire left arm to a shark attack while surfing — and within a month was back on her board riding the waves. She was 13.

At 24, Hamilton still competitively surfs the seas, and, like every professional athlete, there is a behind-the-scenes workout regimen that keeps her strong, sturdy and flexible. She also has a new book, “Body and Soul,” that’s all about motivating young girls to live healthier lives.

Was there ever any question of you returning to surfing after the attack?

I wasn’t sure that I was even able to surf with one arm, and I had developed a fear of sharks. I remember lying in the hospital room and was visited by someone who had lost his leg to a shark attack, and he actually had learned how to surf again after losing his leg, so I thought if he can do it with one leg, I can do it with one arm. ... All my friends surfed, and my whole family surfed. It was almost getting back to normal life. I think God had given me this passion for surfing for a reason, and I was thankful to give it another go.


And how did it go when you decided to get back in the water so quickly after losing your arm?

At first I started off on a long board. When you’re that young, you’re so determined and resilient, so I just really set my mind to it. There were definitely some frustrating times, but my parents would just give me a hug and keep encouraging me. ... Both my parents were supportive. My dad was really encouraging, and he came up with a handle on my surfboard so I could duck dive and push myself under the waves. My mom was a little hesitant, though.

Is there a specific type of workout you’ve developed for surfing with one arm?

I’ve developed a real passion for taking care of myself and focusing on posture and spinal alignment. I do a lot of stretching that focuses on this, and some high-intensity floor workouts. I like to focus on good techniques and doing things properly. Having one arm, I like to focus on evening out my body.


I notice in your book you like to use the TRX suspension trainer.

It’s one of my favorite things to work out with because I can travel with it. I’m on the road about six months a year, and it’s my travel buddy. We have some easy, user-friendly workouts in the book. ... My friends and I will go to the park and set up our TRXes on trees and have a workout in the park. It’s nice to be outside with my buddies for a workout.

Do you do aerobic exercise at all, or is it mostly about strength?

I run a little bit, but not long distances because it’s not the best for surfing. I do more short-distance running and sprints and stairs; more anaerobic and power-development stuff, and flexibility as well. Your body gets into weird positions when you’re surfing, so it’s important to be flexible but also strong and fast.

Fell is a certified strength and conditioning specialist and owner of