Nov. 20, 2003 -- Bethany Hamilton was one of the rising young stars in the Hawaiian surfing community of Hanalei, Kauai. Just 13 years old, she was planning to turn pro and had accumulated some of the biggest names in surfing as sponsors. On Oct. 31, at a favorite surf spot known as "The Tunnels," everything changed.
"I was laying on my board sideways. And then … the shark came up and grabbed a hold of me, my arm," she tells Chris Cuomo in her first network television interview, airing on ABCNEWS' 20/20, Friday, Nov. 21, at 10 p.m. ET.
"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," she tells Cuomo.
The attack severed her left arm, just below the shoulder.
‘I Saw Blood in the Water’
Hamilton was in the water with family friend Holt Blanchard, his daughter, Alana, who is Bethany's best friend, and Holt Blanchard's, 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.
Blanchard recalls, "We're just sitting there and all of a sudden Bethany goes, 'I got attacked by a shark.'" At first, Blanchard 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 Hamilton and led her to shore.
Throughout the terrifying ordeal, Hamilton remained calm. "I think I figured out that, like if I panicked, then things wouldn't go as good as if I was calm." Hamilton said, "I was praying to God to rescue me and help me. And then, I had this one pretty funny thought, I think. I was thinking, I wonder if I'm going to lose my sponsor."
An Inspiring Survivor
Hamilton has shown extraordinary grace in her recovery, telling family and friends that she plans to keep a positive attitude and, remarkably, that she plans to get back on her board and surf as soon as her arm heals.
She's 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.
Hamilton tells Cuomo she doesn't feel compelled to show people she can bounce back from the attack and get back in the water. She says she plans to do it for herself, "If I don't get back on my board, I'll be in a bad mood forever," she said.
For the moment, Hamilton is grateful. "I think we're all very thankful that I'm still here and that Holt was there and I think that this will definitely bring our two families closer together and it already has. But I think that we'll definitely have a thankful Thanksgiving."