HANALEI, KAUAI (HawaiiNewsNow) - Watch her in the surf and you realize that Bethany Hamilton has grown up. She is now 23 years old. She was just 13 when a tiger shark bit off her left arm and thrust the Kauai teenager into the public spotlight.
"Then one minute my arm's gone. I look back on that and I think how I wouldn't even change it if I had the opportunity to. I see all the doors that it's opened," she said.
Her recovery was nothing short of inspiring. She lost 60 percent of her blood but in less than a month she was surfing again. She adapted to life with one hand. She insists God put her back on her feet. "He can carry us through different challenges that we face, and give us joy no matter what," she said.
Her story was told in a movie and a bestselling book. She is now known around the world as more than a shark attack survivor. At public speaking engagements she tells the audience no struggle is too big to overcome. "You paddle out surfing and you have these huge sets and they're just crashing on you. and you feel like you're stuck in that constant paddle, paddle, paddle. You don't feel like you're getting anywhere sometimes," she said.
When Hawaii News Now visited her on Kauai, she went back to the beach where the attack occurred. She said she has rarely taken a film crew there. She doesn't dwell on what happened a decade ago. There are no painful memories. That was her defining moment. "My life would be nothing like it is now if I hadn't lost my arm," she said.
Her reach is far and wide. Earlier this month her foundation held a retreat for teenage girls who lost a limb. It was called "Beautifully Flawed."
"Sometimes we go through things and we want to hide it inside," she said. "So it was a cool opportunity to let them open up and share what their struggles are, and share what our struggles are."
Bethany said her Christian faith was her guiding light before and after the shark attack. She shares that message every chance she gets. "If everything was exactly perfect, there would be no challenge in it. I like the challenges that we have to face, so I'm stoked," she said.
Bethany now competes on the professional surfing circuit. But she views as the sport as more of a platform than a profession. The surfer girl who entered the headlines on Oct. 31, 2003, is still catching waves and taking others along for the ride.