‘Reluctant celebrity’ Bethany has fragrance and movie plans
THEY say that the very center of the storm is where it's most peaceful, and maybe that's true, you think, watching Bethany Hamilton surf. There she is, attaching her surfboard's leash to her ankle one-handed, yawning, then paddling out, her sun-bleached-blonde hair wet and sticking to her head. A perfect day. Surfing. Sliding expertly, perfectly, across a breaking wave's face. Surfing.
There is a storm all around her, but for this moment there are only waves.
It's only gotten crazier, all around her. Her manager talks about the movie coming out -- the girl from "Harry Potter" looks good to play Bethany on the big screen. She has her own fragrances now -- her own fragrances! -- and a signature girls' jewelry line. Up to eight more books on her are on the way.
Wait. She's writing more books?
There will be four of them that will be fictional adventures based on "her character" to be written by Bethany's pastor ("He's a really good writer," her manager, Roy Hofstetter, says). And four more books about faith and "teenage advice."
Will she write those?
"She'll be very, very instrumental in writing them," Hofstetter says.
She has final approval on everything, he says.
It sounds like a hurricane.
But he has the same picture, of the calm in the middle of it, a teenage girl who just wants some nice waves to ride and a taco for lunch.
That's what it's like in the center, isn't it? That sweet smile, that surfer's peace? Yeah?
"I'm not really doing interviews," she says, and turns her back. This is life in a storm.
In this moment we are on the edges of it, both of us being rocked by the raging winds.
BETHANY HAMILTON IS a "reluctant celebrity," her father, Tom Hamilton, says. None of this is easy on her, the attention, the media inquiries, the constant questions, talking about herself. Underneath it all she's just a teenage girl who loves to surf.
"I don't think she'll talk to you," he says.
Um, yeah, I'm getting that.
Still, "reluctant celebrity" doesn't sit with having your own fragrance and books based on your "character." Does it? No, this is a hurricane of their own making. Isn't it?
But this is what happens after what happened Oct. 31, 2003.
Bethany is the girl with one arm after a shark bit off her other one when she was out surfing at "Tunnels," Kauai, that small, blue-water day. A shark bit her and her arm was gone, that fast. She paddled back to shore, her best friend's father made a tourniquet, and she was rushed to the hospital, where, coincidentally, her dad, Tom, was awaiting minor surgery. They rolled him out, rolled her in. Saved her life.
She lost a lot of blood, but she lived, in part, no doubt, because she was so positive and resilient and upbeat and brave. Because she was ... her.
She came out smiling. The network morning shows love stuff like this.
They couldn't even go home when they left the hospital, Tom Hamilton says. Paparazzi had staked out the place.
The 13-year-old surfer girl with a star's glow was the latest story of the century.
And what made it even more so was this -- she went back in the water. One-armed, she was a surfer again. A surfer still.
"Her story is so inspirational," her father says. No doubt about that.
THERE WAS THE initial crush, and then her book, "Soul Surfer," was a Los Angeles Times bestseller.
True, the first explosion was as inescapable and as sudden as the shark's teeth. "Good Morning America" was calling no matter what. People would have been curious for the rest of her life. But it soon became apparent that there was a concerted effort that Bethany be famous for longer than the usual 15 minutes.
Hofstetter talks about "realizing this dream the Hamiltons have."
You can do stuff, with fame like this. Bethany recently went to Thailand, where a tsunami had wreaked such unbelievable destruction. She led a bunch of kids into the ocean, to get back in the water, the way she had, after the shark.
She's sometimes worn her faith on her wetsuit sleeve. She could become a kind of surfing missionary. That was part of the plan.
Still, there is the reluctance for fame after having courted it. The 16-year-old girl in the center of a storm. She'd rather just be surfing, they say. "She's all about the waves, my friend," her manager says.
So why the fragrances? Why the billboards? A movie? More books?
She's become an icon, yes, and now an industry, too.
Do they ever have to talk her into any of this? Great question, Hofstetter says. She's the boss, he says. He once got her a Sunny D deal and she told him she didn't drink the stuff, he says. No deal.
Tom Hamilton, a nice man when confronted with a barrage of none-of-your-business questions, downplays all this. They've cut way back, he says.
But come on, if they wanted this to fade away, it would fade away.
And then he answers it: "As a family, we had to make a decision, right after the attack."
It was that simple.
They are a family of surfers. They're riding the wave.
AT CLAIRE'S, AT Ala Moana Center, her products are there, right there with Mariah Carey and That's So Raven, and Hilary Duff. Her fragrance, "Stoked" for the girls, "Wired" for the guys. She has a lip product, this one's flavored "Tango Mango." Official puka shells. Bracelets. "I have a lot of her earrings," the assistant manager says.
Does it sell? "Pretty good," she says. Girls like her. When tourists come in they always get Bethany stuff, because it seems more local-styled, and tourists want stuff from Hawaii, she says. This is Hofstetter's plan exactly. Surfing. Hawaii. That's Bethany's fashion sense.
"When people see the poster they go, 'Oh, that's the girl! That's the girl who got her arm bitten off!' " the assistant manager says
"Roy gets 20 calls a day," Tom Hamilton says.
Can I smell the fragrance? The assistant manager sprays it. Not bad. What does she think?
"It smells like beach," she says.
THE MOVIE. IT'S "financed," the manager says. It will finally start filming on the North Shore on Sept. 15 (Hawaii State Film Commissioner Donne Dawson said there hasn't been any official permit paperwork yet, but it's early). It's a big-budget, 2,500-theater masterpiece-in-waiting. Just you wait.
"That's their dream," says Tom, the dad who's seen other start dates come and go. They're still working on a script. It's a great idea, though. His daughter thinks there aren't enough good movies out there with positive themes.
"Harry Potter" star Emma Watson wants to play Bethany, Hofstetter says. They'd fix her hair, of course. She wants to do an American role and Bethany Hamilton is "like Tom Sawyer for American girls," her manager says.
"Her name," Bethany Hamilton's manager says, "it's like pitching 'Batman.' "
Legendary producer and former studio head Frank Yablans is apparently in on the project (an anonymous Internet Movie Database article backs this up). The guy also made "The Godfather," "Breakin'," and "Mommie Dearest." I smell Oscar for the tale of the courageous one-armed surfer girl who comes back from being bitten by a shark.
SHE WANTED TO be a pro surfer before all this started, still does, still can be, most people say. She's even better now, out there, always battling, occasionally winning. Out on the waves, in the blue, where it's always peaceful, even in the center of a storm. This is what she's really about, they say.
She's promised to give 10 percent of all sales to charity, she'll set up a foundation to help people one day soon. Despite the billboards, the products, the movie that's still yet to be made, most of the money we're all dreaming of is, "stuff we haven't seen yet," Tom Hamilton says. He still keeps enough hours at the Princeville Hotel to keep his health insurance intact.
There she was, yesterday, at another contest, another of the countless stops up-and-coming surfers have to make. Probably tired. A little grouchy. Feeling the effects of the storm.
There are so many days she just wants to go home.
"There's nothing like being home on Kauai," her dad says.
It's most peaceful there, out on the water, no craziness, no famousness, just waves. There are so many secret spots there, nothing but her and the ocean then, nothing to remind her she needs to do anything else. Home. Surfing. Just surfing, the way she did before all this started, the way she did before that shark bit.