Saturday, November 01, 2003

A Hanalei, Kauai, firefighter examined the surfboard Bethany Hamilton was paddling yesterday morning when she was attacked by what was believed to be a 15- to 17-foot tiger shark. Bethany, shown in June in the inset photo, lost her left arm.

Shark maims
surf star

Bethany Hamilton, 13, one of
the nation’s top-ranked amateurs,
loses her left arm in an attack
off Kauai’s North Shore

Until yesterday's shark attack, Kauai's Bethany Hamilton seemed assured of a long and successful future as a professional.

As she did most mornings, Bethany was surfing with her best friend and fellow competitor, Alana Blanchard, as well as Alana's father, Holt, and brother, Byron. About six other surfers were also in the lineup.

At about 7:30 a.m. a large shark, perhaps 10 to 15 feet in length, bit off Bethany's left arm, just below the shoulder, at a surf spot known as Tunnels, at Makua Beach on Kauai's North Shore, county officials said.

"Nobody saw the shark," said Bethany's 21-year-old brother, Noah, who along with Bethany and brother Tim, 17, lives with their parents in Princeville. "It was a small day at Tunnels, with clear water, and she paddled over to her friends after the attack, with just one arm."

"She's stable now," he added, after visiting with her at Wilcox Memorial Hospital, "and I think the biggest news is that she never cried once. Losing her arm will change a lot for her, but she never cried once. The doctor was amazed at how well she is holding up. She told one of her friends that she's glad this happened to her, 'because now I can tell the whole world about God.'"

Noah Hamilton said a future in pro surfing has faded some in his sister's mind but that she is already composed enough to declare that she now wants to pursue becoming a professional photographer, just as he is doing. Bethany had, up to this point, been home-schooled so she could surf regularly.

Just last weekend, Bethany, a long and lean, goofy-footed (right foot forward) surfer, competed in a National Scholastic Surfing Association contest on the Big Island. It is one of the biggest amateur organizations in the United States.

Bethany Hamilton, who lost an arm in yesterday's shark attack, is shown on the waves before this year's Surf Into Summer event.

In last season's national championships at San Clemente, Calif., Bethany, the second-ranked surfer from the Hawaii region, took the runner-up spot in the open women's division and fifth place in the explorer women's.

Among her many other notable achievements, Bethany is also a former state champion.

She also won the women's shortboard division at this year's Surf Into Summer event, one of Hawaii's biggest amateur contests, held each Memorial Day weekend. She already has more than a handful of sponsors who support her, including industry heavyweight Rip Curl.

"We were just trying to recruit her for the world team," said Rainos Hayes, a former pro surfer who now serves as head coach of Hawaii's world team contingent (in surfing, Hawaii generally operates as its own region).

"She's probably, right now, the strongest 13-year-old waterwoman in Hawaii: her strength in big waves, her paddling ability, her water knowledge; she's the best. (And) her character is such that she will overcome this."

Said local surfing icon China Uemura, who regularly interacted with Bethany at state contests, particularly his annual Wahine Surfing Classic: "Unfortunately, it did happen to her. No one wants a shark attack, but for it to happen to her ... Her surfing is outstanding, her attitude is outstanding -- everybody loves her. ...

"For a girl like her, she has such a big future in the surfing world, especially in women's surfing. But I'm pretty sure she won't give up surfing."

Noah Hamilton also believes his sister will not give up the sport, even though she may no longer become a pro. He said that she and the rest of the family are praying and doing well under the circumstances and that her doctor has told them that she likely can be fitted with a prosthesis.

"She might have a hard time, but there have been quite a few surfers who've surfed with one arm," he said.

"She might have a harder time in bigger surf, but in smaller waves and contests, I think she'll be fine."


Recent shark attacks
in isle waters

Victims of shark attacks in Hawaii's waters since 1997:


>> Oct. 5: A 41-year-old Maui woman was bitten on the left thigh and right index finger while wading in shallow waters off Kihei at about 1 p.m.

>> June 24: A 60-year-old Manoa man was bitten on the right foot in waters off Makua at 8 a.m. by a shark estimated to be about 12 feet long.

>> May 10: Just before 1 p.m., a 20-year-old Kamuela man was bitten in 8-foot waters off Kahaluu on the right calf, ankle and foot by a 6-foot-long shark.


>> Nov. 17: A San Diego woman, 33, was bitten on the right shoulder and forearm about 11 a.m. off Honokowai, Maui, while swimming.

>> Oct. 30: A 60-year-old woman was bitten in waters off Kihei on the left foot while swimming in the late morning.

>> Aug. 28: While surfing near Kewalo's harbor channel, a 16-year-old boy was bitten on the left foot by a 10-foot-long tiger shark.

>> March 25: About noon at Brennecke's Beach on Kauai, a 17-year-old bodyboarder's left foot was ripped off above the ankle in 8-foot waters about 30 yards from shore.

>> Jan. 1: A snorkeler, 35, of Los Angeles, was bitten on the buttocks in 20- to 40-foot waters at about 1 p.m. off Olowalu on Maui.


>> April 11: A surfer was bitten on the left hand by a small white-tip reef shark in 10-foot waters off Ewa Beach.

>> March 23: About 2:40 p.m. off Sandy Beach, a surfer was bitten on the left hand in 6- to 8-foot-deep waters.


>> Oct. 18: A snorkeler, 56, of California, was bitten at about 11 a.m. on the upper right torso and below the waist in 35-foot waters off Olowalu.

>> Aug. 15: A 53-year-old visitor from France was severely bitten at 11 a.m. on the lower left leg by a tiger shark while windsurfing in waters seven miles off Kanaha on Maui.


>> Nov. 23: A Rhode Island woman, 51, was severely bitten in the late afternoon on the right buttock while swimming in waters 250 yards off Kona.

>> Oct. 1: A 16-year-old Kona boy was severely bitten on the right arm above and below the elbow while surfing in the early evening 80 yards offshore of the Old Kona Airport.

>> July 21: A Big Island man, 43, was bitten on the right thigh and buttocks while surfing off Honolii at about 10:30 a.m.

>> March 18: A 29-year-old California woman died in channel waters off Maui's west side after a shark bit off her arm while she was kayaking. She sank beneath the waves and her body was never recovered.

>> March 5: A Haiku woman was severely bitten on the leg while swimming more than 200 yards off Kaanapali.


>> Oct. 28: An 18-year-old Kauai man's right leg was amputated after severe attacks on the right hand and both legs 100 yards off Kauai's Waiokapua Bay.

>> June 24: A spearfisher's left leg was bitten while night-diving 40 yards off Sunset Beach.

Source: State Department of Land & Natural Resources Aquatic Resources Office


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