Debby Fricano and her daughter Caitlin Spidle were ecstatic to meet Bethany Hamilton Thursday.
“She’s a really great inspiration to our youth today,” Fricano said. “She’s really taught youth and even taught adults her triumphs and tragedies.”
Hundreds of people waited outside Jamba Juice at Kukui Grove Center for a chance to meet the Kauai woman who is one of the world’s most famous surfers.
The 26-year-old Hamilton signed autographs for an hour, smiled, and talked story with her enchanted fans, who beamed with delight as they posed for pictures with their hero.
Nicole and Drew Bartlett said the opportunity to meet Hamilton, whose life was made into the 2011 movie, “Soul Surfer,” was a chance of a lifetime.
“We really respect what she’s done since her incident and she’s made the best of it,” Drew said. “She’s impacted so many people.”
Hamilton, who survived a 2003 shark attack at Tunnels Beach that claimed her left arm, returned to the water a month later, and won a national title within two years. She went on to become a professional surfer in 2007.
Today, the blonde with the big smile lives on the North Shore with husband Adam Dirks and their one-year-old son, Tobias. She said participating in community events like the one Thursday is always a treat.
“The other week I got to go to Hanalei School and do morning news crew, which I did when I was little. That was a lot of fun being able to reconnect with my roots,” she said. “Being here at Kukui Grove is awesome, and I’m excited to hopefully stoke some people out and have a fun time together and encourage the younger people the chase their dreams and know that they can, coming from a small island of Kauai.”
The 5-11 Hamilton remains trim, toned and active. She recently returned to competition and nearly stole the show when she beat No. 1 ranked Tyler Wright in a heat at the Fiji Women’s Pro.
With 10 minutes left in the second heat, the Kauai native scored a near-perfect 9.0 ride.
“Things just went my way, and I surfed a smart heat, which is hard to do,” she said. “It’s harder than people even know. Putting together a good heat is super hard in such a short time frame, dealing with the variables in the ocean. And to surf against someone amazing like Tyler, I tried to focus on what I had to do versus who I was surfing against. It felt good.”
Hamilton wasn’t done.
As she moved on to the third round of the Fiji Women’s Pro, she knew the pressure would be staggering. She faced off against six-time world champion Stephanie Gilmore and then No. 7-ranked surfer Johanne Defay. It was, Hamilton said, nerve-wracking, even for someone with her experience.
“My nerves were all over the place, so I was just trying to breathe in between waves and just hold it together,” she said.
Hamilton stayed focused and knocked off the six-time world champ before being eliminated in the semifinals by Defay, the eventual winner of the event.
“It’s funny because I’ve been rooting for (Stephanie), and I would love to see her win a world title. I love her surfing, and I’ve done a few surf trips with her and she’s a good friend,” she said. “It’s hard because I’m rooting for her, but at the same time, I wanted to do well and take the win.”
Before traveling to Fiji, Hamilton said a surfing trip to Costa Rica boosted her to a higher level.
“I surfed a really fun left hander and really got me mentally confident and physically confident — just surfing wise. I’ve been training hard this whole year,” she said.
A week prior to competition, Hamilton said she felt sharp surfing Fiji nonstop.
“I’m … wanting to surf better than ever and I am,” she said. “Naturally, I’m just training really hard all the time and going into Fiji, I felt ready and good to go.”
Besides surfing against the world’s best and being a wife and mom, Hamilton is involved in charity work, including her own foundation, Friends of Bethany, which reaches out to amputees and youth and encourages them to have faith.
This summer, Hamilton said she’s focusing on her new movie, “Surfs Like A Girl.”
“It’s showing an untold story of my surfing career and … what it’s like being a mom and still chasing a professional career and pushing my ability,” she said. “My family and I were just gonna be traveling surf gypsies all summer and filming our film and adventuring.”
Although she doesn’t thrive in the limelight, Hamilton said she is grateful to be able to encourage youth to make healthy decisions, while being able to surf all over the world.
“Wake up each day and think of the things you have to be thankful for and to work hard for your dreams and goals,” she said “Always believe that you can.”