Long and lean, a blond streak across the waves, 13-year-old Bethany Hamilton has always been something special in her Hawaiian surfing community. Since losing an arm in a harrowing shark attack in October, she's shown just how special she is.
Bethany and her teammates on the the Hanalei Bay girls' surf team are the embodiment of the feisty, spirited surfer girls of the movie Blue Crush, taking on a once male-dominated sport with their own gusto.
Born into a family of surfers, Bethany has been catching waves and trophies since the age of 8. And those who have seen her surf say she has an extraordinary gift.
Suzanne "Bobo" Bollins, who calls herself the "Grandma of the Surf," says she knew Bethany had what it takes to be a champion.
"I consider her a little ocean person. I'd say she has salt in her blood," Bollins said. "She lives and breathes the ocean. She gets the big waves. She doesn't mess around. … I have said to myself, 'There's the next World Champion.' "
But on Oct. 31, when the water was glassy and calm, Bethany's life was changed forever.
"I was laying on my board sideways. And then … the shark came up and grabbed a hold of my arm," she told ABCNEWS' Chris Cuomo.
"And then, I was holding onto my board, with my thumb, because I probably didn't want to get pulled under. It was like pulling me back and forth, not like pulling me underwater. Just like, you know how you eat a piece of steak? … It was kind of like that. And then it let go. And then went under. Then I looked down at the water, and it was like really red, from all the blood in the water."
The attack severed her left arm, just below the shoulder.
Bethany has drawn as much admiration from her community after the attack as she had before. "I guess since I handled the situation so well, that people have taken me as a role model, but I don't like feel like one," she said.
‘I Saw Blood in the Water’
Bethany was at a favorite surf spot known as "The Tunnels" with family friend Holt Blanchard; his daughter, Alana, who is Bethany's best friend; and Blanchard's son, Byron. The attack happened so quickly that none of the surfers around her ever saw the shark — believed to be a 14-foot-long tiger shark — or her struggle with it.
"We're just sitting there and all of a sudden Bethany goes, 'I got attacked by a shark,' " Blanchard recalled. At first, he said, he thought she was kidding because he never saw any splashing or struggle or heard her scream.
"All of a sudden she was paddling in toward Byron and Alana and myself," he said. "And I saw blood in the water and I realized she did get attacked. … I paddled up to her and at that point I noticed her arm was gone."
Blanchard said he knew he had to act quickly. Still 200 yards from shore, Blanchard said he thought to himself, "How am I going to get her in before she bleeds to death?"
Using his surfboard leash, Blanchard fashioned a makeshift tourniquet for Bethany and led her to shore.
Throughout the terrifying ordeal, Bethany remained calm. "I think I figured out that, like if I panicked, then things wouldn't go as good as if I was calm," she said.
"I was praying to God to rescue me and help me," Bethany said. "And then, I had this one pretty funny thought, I think. I was thinking, 'I wonder if I'm going to lose my sponsor.' "
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