Bethany describes her family as “normal”. Her father, Tom Hamilton, was raised in Ocean City, New Jersey where he learned to surf. He visited Hawaii in 1971 and vowed that he would return. Bethany’s mother, Cheri Lynch, was raised in San Diego, California where she learned to surf at Mission Beach. At the time, surfing was a boys’ sport but Cheri was hooked and vowed to get to Hawaii. In the 70’s Cheri and Tom met at the Kauai Surf Hotel where Tom worked as a waiter. On Valentine’s Day, Tom popped the question so surfer, ”Ladybug”, married surfer, “Tunas”. The Hamiltons knew that all of their children would learn to surf because “There was, after all, saltwater in the bloodline” (Hamilton, 31). All sources agree that Tom and Cheri were passionate about their family, faith, and surfing. The parents seemed unmotivated to define their lives by working for material possessions. Instead, they valued God, family, and friends above wealth, social status, and financial security.
Cheri and Tom lived in a modest house on the beach of Kauai, Hawaii with their three children. Kauai is, “a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with one road to get around on,” (Hamilton, 53) a place where the Hamiltons were always aware of God’s beautiful, natural creation. Tom remained a waiter at a local hotel while Cheri cleaned rental
houses to support their family. Both continued to surf with their children as a family activity.
The oldest son, Noah, was serious, focused, and an excellent photographer. Timmy, the middle child, enjoyed making people laugh and was an excellent video editor. Bethany, the youngest child, enjoyed music, movies, lots of friends, and above all surfing. Bethany stated that her brothers made her competitive because they “never treated me like a girl” (Hamilton, 38). She learned at an early age not to wince, whine, or wallow in self-pity when Noah and Timmy played tricks on her, which made Bethany strong and determined. That residual strength and determination would help her survive the shark attack.
The Hamilton family describes themselves as the biggest fans of each other, win or lose “When one wins, we all win,” (Hamilton, 38) but they were taught to be good losers, “because there’s always tomorrow” (Hamilton, 43) to try even harder. Bethany’s parents recognized her surfing talent so by the age of eight, they signed her up for a surfing competition on Oahu, Hawaii. Bethany realized that entering competitions was not easy or cheap for her parents, but she had their total support. After Bethany won several competitions, she earned more money and received Rip Curl sponsorship which provided her with surfing gear. When Bethany wanted to become a professional surfer, the entire family supported her. Her parents even agreed to home school her so she could manage her competition schedule and have enough free time for surfing practice. No matter where the Hamilton family traveled, they always prayed together for the safety of all surfers before a competition. The family were members of the North Shore Community Church where they attended services, retreats, camps, and Bible studies. Bethany was influenced by her parents’ faith and began to choose “friends like me who wanted to be close to God” (Hamilton, 58-59). Since film is a visual medium and “faith” is not, the movie emphasizes “family” as the primary catalyst for Bethany’s recovery, but the book emphasizes “faith”.
After the shark attack, Bethany’s family provided the strength and faith that she needed to overcome the trauma and fatigue during her six days in the hospital. The presence of God in the Hamilton’s daily life helped all of them to cope, heal, and recover. After Bethany went home, they provided the physical and psychological care that kept her
resilient. Teresa Blakely in Faith and Trauma describes the destabilization of family after a traumatic event. She describes the “evaporation” of support systems and the unacknowledged “ghost” always present. Everyday events can become insurmountable tasks but the Hamilton family, as focused as a shark, attacked Bethany’s problems head-on together as a unit. Her father designed a modified surf board so she could duck dive; Noah designed a website for Bethany’s fans; Timmy photographed surf sessions and her mother cheered for her. The entire family prayed together for God’s healing and help. Of course her family grieved Bethany’s loss of an arm and worried about the huge medical bills accumulating, but they thought of alternative ways for Bethany to do physical tasks and they worked with friends who held fundraisers on the Hamilton’s behalf to pay bills. By God’s grace, through donors from around the world, the bills were eventually paid by strangers who had learned Bethany’s story on TV. When Bethany showed her family how determined she was to surf again, they continued to be her biggest fans.