SOUL SURFER is the inspiring true story of teen surfer Bethany Hamilton, who lost her arm in a shark attack and courageously overcame all odds to become a champion again, through her sheer determination and unwavering faith. The film features an all-star cast, including AnnaSophia Robb and Helen Hunt, with Carrie Underwood in her film debut, and Dennis Quaid. In the wake of this life-changing event that took her arm and nearly her life, Bethany's feisty determination and steadfast beliefs spur her toward an adventurous comeback that gives her the grit to turn her loss into a gift for others.
Bethany (Robb) was born to surf. A natural talent who took to the waves at a young age, she was leading an idyllic, sun-drenched, surfer girl's life on the Kauai Coast, competing in national competitions with her best friend Alana (Lorraine Nicholson), when everything changed in a heartbeat. On Halloween morning, Bethany was on a typical ocean outing when a 14-foot tiger shark came out of nowhere and seemed to shatter all her dreams.
SOUL SURFER reveals the moving aftermath of this headline-making story, as Bethany fights to recover and grapples with the future. Strengthened by the love of her parents, Tom (Quaid) and Cheri (Hunt), she refuses to give in or give up, and begins a bold return to the water. Still, the questions keep hammering her: Why did this happen? Why did she have to lose everything? Will she ever feel the joy and power of riding the waves again? And if she can't be a surfer, then who is she?
The devastating 2004 tsunami in the Pacific Ocean unexpectedly gives Bethany a new perspective. Traveling to Phuket, Thailand with her youth-group leader Sarah Hill (Underwood), she witnesses life beyond her own shoreline and discovers her greater purpose--she can make a difference in the lives of others. Filled with a new sense of hope and direction, she returns home with a renewed resolve to conquer her own limitations and set an encouraging example for people facing adversity.
At the National Championships, Bethany bravely faces off with her fiercest rival, Malia Birch (Sonya Balmores), and takes her astonishing one-armed surfing technique to the limit. But as the horn blows, and the suspenseful competition kicks off, Bethany is no longer thinking about the challenges of her body. Now, her surfing, her biggest dreams and her life have become about pushing her own physical limits to touch the souls of others.
Directed by Sean McNamara, the screenplay was by McNamara, Deborah Schwartz. Douglas Schwartz and Michael Berk. SOUL SURFER is based on the book by Bethany Hamilton, Sheryl Berk and Rick Bundschuh. The screen story by Sean McNamara, Deborah Schwartz, Douglas Schwartz, Michael Berk, Matt R. Allen, Caleb Wilson and Brad Gann.
About The Production
Soul Surfer /sohl serf-er/ - noun; 1. A term coined in the 1970s, used to describe a talented surfer who surfs for the sheer pleasure of it. Although they may still enter competitions, a Soul Surfer's motives go beyond winning.
"Courage, sacrifice, determination, commitment, toughness, heart, talent, guts. That's what little girls are made of."
-- Bethany Hamilton
On 31 October 31, 2003, spirited Hawaiian teenager and rising young surfer Bethany Hamilton went into the ocean, and emerged forever changed - her life upended by an unimaginable event, yet her determination to beat the odds sparked . . . and her adventures just beginning.
Now, the uplifting, true story of Bethany's amazing ride from fun-loving surf girl to global heroine comes to the screen with the riveting motion picture adaptation of her best-selling book. Unfolding against the paradisiacal blue waves and playful youth culture of Hawaii, the film brings to life the story of how, just a few weeks after a shocking, near deadly shark attack that would take her right arm, Bethany was back up on her board. In mere months she was crossing the globe to lend a hand to tsunami victims in Thailand, and in just over a year she would stun everyone by entering the National Scholastic Surfing Championships in Hawaii, surfing with only one arm - and revealing what it really means to have the heart of a champion.
In the process, her never-say-never attitude would awe the sports world, galvanize the nation, and bring her family closer than ever.
For director Sean McNamara, Soul Surfer is all about attitude - the feisty, unwavering attitude of a girl who never stopped believing in herself, her family or in the sheer beauty and thrill of being alive. "Bethany took what could have been a tragedy and turned her whole life into an inspiration for people around the world," says the director. "Not only did she make one of the great all-time sports comebacks, but she did it in her own style. She is someone you look at and think, 'If she can do all the incredible things she's done, I can set the world on fire, too.'"
McNamara, who directed the hit Disney series "That's So Raven," but has also headed into the waves with the girl-surfing TV series "Beyond The Break," was moved by Bethany's story as soon as he heard it years ago. He felt right away it had the makings of a family movie full of outdoor action and heartwarming emotion, but it was when he first met Bethany that he was further inspired by the idea of bringing her youthful spunk, verve and optimism to the story. He saw in her a universal underdog who wasn't deterred by the toughest of odds, and who showed that if one wave knocks you down, the next one might lift you higher.
"Her story is so amazing that I really wanted to get to the emotions of it," says McNamara. "There was so much going on inside Bethany and her family that wasn't talked about and the way they overcame their struggles made it even more exciting than what people saw in the headlines."
After the shark attack, Bethany could easily have succumbed to fear, despair or anger -- but instead the complete opposite happened. It only motivated her to push harder than ever before. She came to believe that the loss of her arm would, as she says, lead her "to something really beautiful." Of course, she couldn't have predicted then that she would make a triumphant return to surfing, become an international role model, write a best-selling book, and then be approached for a film about her life. But she knew that, no matter what, she still had a vast amount to experience and give to the world. She set out to prove that dedication, family teamwork and an unyielding spirit could turn an inconceivable event into an incredible source of inspiration.
It was about six months after Bethany's accident, just as she was discovering the depths of her personal girl power and blossoming into an international surfing idol with her gutsy decision to keep competing with one arm, when producer Douglas Schwartz approached her to talk about a film. Best known for creating the hit beachside television series "Baywatch," Schwartz mentioned to Bethany that her story could make for a uniquely moving experience for family audiences.
"I've been a writer and producer for 32 years and I'd never encountered a more inspirational story than Bethany's," comments Schwartz, who would go on to co-write the script with McNamara and two other "Bay Watch" alumni -- his wife Deborah Schwartz and co-creator Michael Berk.
Bethany was unsure at first, but then she became intrigued by the idea that a movie might continue to bring hope to other teenagers and families looking to turn around tough situations.
"It has been such an incredible journey for me, that I'm excited to share it," Bethany explains. "Having a movie made about me is something I would never have picked for myself but I think the filmmakers and actors have made an amazing and fun film that I hope will encourage people to make the most of their own lives, no matter their circumstances."
When McNamara traveled to Hawaii to meet the rest of the close-knit Hamilton family, the source of Bethany's vivacious grit revealed itself to him. "The Hamilton family is made up of remarkable people who overcame a lot of inner struggles together," he says. "I had the feeling as soon as I met them that the spirit of this family would be a major theme of the movie. They all had doubts after Bethany lost her arm, but they never let them take over. Their love and devotion is a big part of what makes the experience so stirring. Together, they helped Bethany turn adversity into the drive to make a difference."
It was also important to the writers to imbue the screenplay with Bethany's fiery passion for competitive surfing, one of the world's most risky and soulful sports, in which athletes attempt to dance on huge ocean waves, requiring an intense mix of daring, skill and artistry. Unwilling to turn away from her surfer girl life, despite having only one arm to paddle, push up and balance, Bethany invented a whole new way to do it that took everyone by storm.
"When you see Bethany in the water, you can't help but be in awe of what she has accomplished," McNamara says. "She works out 6 hours a day. At her young age, she's just an amazing and fearless athlete who loves the ocean and that is part of her story."
With the script in process, an accomplished and diverse team of producers came on board. David Brookwell, an Emmy-nominated writer, director and producer ("Even Stevens," "That's So Raven," "Beyond the Break") and partner with Sean McNamara in Brookwell McNamara Entertainment, is himself a surfer who was excited by the film's youthful vibe and lush Hawaiian setting. Yet, he says the surfing is really just a backdrop to a profile of courage and a family bonding together. "We really wanted to focus on the relationships between the characters," Brookwell explains. "The question is not only will Bethany surf again, but who will she be when she does?"
Roy "Dutch" Hofstetter, a close family friend who has been Bethany's manager for years, says he knew that her bold refusal to halt her dreams would resonate around the world. "The first time I met Bethany, I was on the beach where the surf movie Blue Crush was being filmed. She was nine years old, and she and her best friend Alana came up to ask if they could please be in the movie. They thought I was producing it. I said, 'Don't worry, girls. Some day you'll have your chance to be in the movies," recalls Hofstetter. "But I didn't know we'd be telling Bethany's story."
David Zelon, executive vice president of production for Mandalay Pictures, was integral in securing the film's distribution deal with Sony Pictures. As soon as he saw Bethany riding the waves, a portrait of harmony in motion, he felt audiences would be mesmerized by her valor. "Watching her surf is like an optical illusion. She does things that your mind can't comprehend," he muses.
Money manager David Tice was honored to make his debut as an executive producer on Soul Surfer. "I've never been involved in producing or financing a film before, but Bethany's story is so special, I felt audiences around the world would want to see it," says Tice.
Finally, Dominic Ianno, who helped negotiate key finance agreements for the project, joined the project as in order to move closer toward his goal of making movies that inspire people. "This is ultimately a story about strength of will and serving others," Ianno says.
One thing that set the film apart for all the filmmakers is that, although it is biographical, it is also a rare true-life story about a young woman who is still at the very start of an exciting life, and whose full story is not yet written. Now just 21 years old and ranked among the top pro female surfers in the world, Bethany has also become a global spokesperson who speaks about the power of never giving up and staying open to what ever challenges and adventures life brings. Even she can't predict what will come next.
"I'm so excited just to greet every single new day," Bethany summarizes. "I only hope when people see this movie that they'll feel that same way - that there's more to happiness than ourselves and that the real joy of life is learning to love others more."
AnnaSophia Robb Learns To Soul Surf
As soon as Robb read the screenplay, she was ready to commit. "I thought it was such an uplifting story," the actress says. "It was so unbelievable that I kept wondering: did this really all happen? Is it really true? I met with Sean McNamara a few days later and he said 'yes, it all really happened.' Then he told me that Bethany had wanted me to do the role, and I was so honored, I was just like 'oh, wow, that is so cool.' The fact that she wanted me to tell her story made me want to do a great job even more." Read more
Bethany's Rocks: The Supporting Cast
Bethany Hamilton could not achieved all that she has without an incredible amount of love, honesty and support from her family, friends and community. For Sean McNamara, casting Bethany's parents, her youth group leader Sarah Hill and the friends who stood by her when her world was unraveling was vital to bringing the full emotional kick of the story to the screen. Read more
On The Waves: Shooting Soul Surfer
Adding to the stirring authenticity of Soul Surfer, Sean McNamara and the filmmaking team shot on location on the North Shores of Oahu and Kauai, the epicenters of Hawaiian big wave surfing, where the ocean is a way of life. Filming took place at such surf hotspots as Makaha, Waimea Bay, Sunset Beach and Turtle Bay Resort - many of the places Bethany has been frequenting since she was old enough to stand up on a board. Read more
SEAN McNAMARA (Writer/Director/Producer) has cultivated an entertainment career that has spanned 20 years as a producer, director and writer. A highly sought-after talent, he has directed 15 feature films and numerous episodic television shows. Temped Read more
DOUGLAS SCHWARTZ (Writer/Producer) has been a leading creator, producer, director and writer for the past 30 years in Hollywood. Over the three decades, he wrote and produced 24 two-hour network and cable network TV movies and miniseries. Read more
DEBORAH SCHWARTZ (Writer) was the Supervising Producer and key writer of the worldwide hit TV series, "Baywatch" for seven seasons. During that time, she wrote 45 original episodes of "Baywatch" and was David Hasselhoff's favorite writer as her episodes were uplifting the human condition to overcome obstacles in life. Read more
BETHANY HAMILTON has become a source of inspiration to millions through her story of faith, determination, and hope. Born into a family of surfers on February 8, 1990, on the island of Kauai, Hawaii, Bethany began surfing at a young age. At the age of eight, Bethany entered her first surf competition--winning both the short and long board divisions and sparking a love for surf competition within her spirit.
On October 31, 2003, Bethany was attacked by a 14-foot tiger shark while surfing off Kauai's North Shore. The attack took her left arm and seemed to end her career as a rising surf star just as it began. Bethany says:
"It was Jesus Christ who gave me peace when I was attacked by the shark. They had to get me to the beach, which took 20 minutes of paddling. 'The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus' (Philippians 4:6-8)."
After losing more than 60 percent of her blood, and making it through several surgeries without infection, Bethany was on her way to recovery with an unbelievably positive attitude. Lifeguards and doctors believe her strong water sense and faith in God helped get her through the traumatic ordeal. Miraculously, just one month after the attack, Bethany returned to the water to continue pursuing her goal to become a professional surfer.
"It was what God had taught me growing up that helped me overcome my fear and get back on the board. 'Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go' (Joshua 1:9)."
In January of 2004, Bethany made her return to surf competition, placing fifth in the Open Women's division. With no intention of stopping, Bethany continued to enter and excel in competition. Just over a year after the attack she took first place in the Explorer Women's division of the 2005 National Scholastic Surfers Association National Championships--winning her first National Title.
In 2007, Bethany realized her dream and turned pro. Bethany has since participated in numerous Association of Surfing Professionals and World Tour Events with her major highlight being a second place finish in the ASP 2009 World Junior Championships.
Since losing her arm, Bethany's story has been told in hundreds of media outlets and she has been recognized with numerous awards, public appearances, and various speaking engagements. In October 2004, Bethany shared her life story in her autobiography, Soul Surfer. Other books Bethany has written include Devotions for the Soul Surfer, Rise Above, A "Soul Surfer" Bible, Ask Bethany, and a fictional series of books based on her adventures: Clash, Burned, Storm, and Crunch. Bethany was the inspiration for Becky Baumgartner's 2007 documentary, Heart of a Soul Surfer.
From a young age, Bethany's parents instilled their faith in Jesus Christ; and at age 5, she made the decision to have a personal relationship with Him. Bethany's foundation of faith has been her backbone; her source of truth, hope, and strength. Out of the water, Bethany has grown from a young teenage girl with aspirations of becoming a professional surfer into a professional surfer with aspirations of becoming a beacon of inspiration and hope. Through the platform of professional sport, Bethany has been able to touch a large number of people with her message, charitable efforts, and overall spirit. Bethany just launched her own foundation, Friends of Bethany, which supports shark attack survivors, traumatic amputees, and serves to inspire others through her life story, and is involved in numerous other charitable efforts.
"My youth leader, Sarah Hill, has been a really good support and encourager for me. God gave her a verse for me the day I was attacked: '"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future''' (Jeremiah 29:11)."
Bethany's story is continually growing as she strives to be the best at whatever God calls her to do. The future is truly wide open for this young soul surfer!
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