Soul Surfer is based on the true story of Bethany Hamilton, a teen who was on the path to become a professional surfer when she was attacked by a shark off the coast of Kauai. Although the harrowing accident left her with only one arm, it didn’t destroy her spirit. In an admirable act of courage that could only be described by a passionate need to do what she loved most, Hamilton made an inspiring return to the water and to the world of competitive surfing.
Hamilton’s frightening accident turned her recovery into national headlines. The teen was able to use her increased visibility to inspire others and in 2004 Hamilton wrote a book titled, Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board. The book fell into the hands of film director Sean McNamara, who was touched by her courage. “She was attacked on Halloween morning, a month later she stood up on the board, six months later she won fifth place at Nationals, the next year she won second place, and today she’s pursuing pro surfing,” said McNamara. He decided he wanted to meet the Hamilton family, and soon the wheels were in motion to bring Bethany’s story to the big screen.
From script revision to post production, the Hamilton family was very involved in the production of Soul Surfer. They were even on set for most of the filming process. Although this type of hands-on presence would have frustrated some film crews, McNamara says he appreciated their input, “They only made it better, their authenticity helped us.” Bethany Hamilton was especially concerned with the accuracy of the surfing. Sometimes this resulted in shooting scenes three different ways, using hand held cameras, dollies, and computer graphics when necessary.
For the actors, this meant six weeks of grueling training. “I’d surf for about two hours every day and then I’d train for an hour or two every day,” said actress AnnaSophia Robb who plays Bethany Hamilton in the film. Robb and fellow cast members Lorraine Nicholson (who plays Hamilton’s best friend Alana Blanchard), and Dennis Quaid (Bethany’s father, Tom Hamilton) all spent six weeks in the water before shooting began, but a deep seeded personal responsibility to accurately portray their characters kept them motivated. “Alana is one of the most laid back people you’ll ever meet, but at the same time she’s a professional athlete so she’s incredibly disciplined,” said Nicholson who took time off from pursuing her degree in Literary Arts at Brown to learn how to surf. “That’s one of the things that I wanted to capture and that’s why I wanted to take my training so seriously.”
The hard work of the cast and crew was not in vain, as the resulting product is a beautifully shot and edited film about passion, strength and surfing. But although Hamilton’s story is very inspirational, at times Soul Surfer does feel a little congested with life lessons. Changing your perspective on a situation to find a better outlook and finding a deeper meaning in life through religion are omnipresent themes that don’t need to be drilled in to the viewer’s head when they’re already demonstrated as the story unfolds.
Carrie Underwood makes her acting debut in this film, in the role of youth leader Sarah Hill. Her performance is decent, yet not captivating, just as most expected. AnnaSophia Robb gives a great performance as main character Bethany Hamilton, portraying the likable and heroic qualities that Hamilton exudes in real life.
The term “soul surfer” was coined in the 1960s to describe a person who surfs for pure pleasure, transcending physical boundaries to become one with the wave. It’s a spiritual experience, where the goal is personal enrichment over commercial gain. Soul Surfer tells the story of a young woman who embodies this term through and through. It’s an engaging portrayal of a true a story that will leave you uplifted and inspired.