Four months after giving birth to her second son—and 15 years after losing her arm in a shark attack—Bethany Hamilton was back on her surfboard. In July, the 28-year-old secured a wildcard spot for early September’s Surf Ranch Pro competition.
The Surf Ranch in Lemoore, California, was started by world champion surfer Kelly Slater. Slater worked with a fluid mechanics specialist to create an idealized surfing wave pool. The scientist designed a 70-ton hydrofoil—a metal blade that is dragged through lake water. The moving blade creates artificial waves at timed intervals on the man-made lake. Even the bottom of the lake is sculpted to make the waves break at just the right point—every single time—for best surfing conditions. For the first time, Surf Ranch has been chosen as a competition site in the World Surf League’s 2018 championship tour.
The attraction for competition is that the waves at Surf Ranch put all competitors on the same playing field. Unlike a natural setting, the ranch lake generates the exact wave over and over again. In ocean conditions, surfers take what the surf gives them. One may get a perfect wave—and walk away with a perfect score. But the next may have to surf a completely different wave—for better or for worse.
At Surf Ranch, judges will evaluate each performance on the same challenge—so surfers’ skills really go head-to-head without variation.
Hamilton spent several days practicing at the ranch in July. The workout helped prepare her for competing against others—most of whom are younger and haven’t just come off maternity leave. The well-known female competitor has been surfing the giant waves off the coast of Hawaii most of her life.
At age 13, Hamilton went surfing with friends. It was a normal, daily event for all of them. But that day, a 14-foot tiger shark closed in on Bethany and bit off her left arm. Her friend’s father applied a tourniquet and got Bethany to a hospital in time to save her life. Her surfing career seemed to be over, but Bethany refused to let the loss stop her.
In the years since that incident, Bethany Hamilton has inspired millions in the face of hardship. She attributes her determination and perseverance to the presence of Jesus in her life. Hamilton continues to surf competitively, has written numerous books about her life and faith, and operates a website to encourage others to trust Jesus—no matter how fierce life’s seas become.