Soul Surfer is a 2011 American drama film about the life of surfer Bethany Hamilton, who lost her left arm in a shark attack when she was 13 years old. The film is directed by Sean McNamara, who based the screenplay on Hamilton's biographical book of the same name and on filmmakers' interviews with the family. The title is a word play on the term soul surfer, coined in the 1960s to denote someone who surfs purely for pleasure. AnnaSophia Robb stars as Hamilton, and Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt star as Hamilton's parents. Plans for a film existed since shortly after the shark attack on Hamilton in 2003 and her subsequent recovery. After several false starts to production, McNamara was attached to direct the film. While the film is based on Hamilton's 2004 biographical book, the director and producer David Brookwell interviewed the family to learn about unpublished conflicts to include in the film. Filming took place in Hawaii in early 2010, and Robb wore a green sleeve on her arm so visual effects could be added in post-production to create the appearance of a stump. Additional filming took place in Tahiti in August 2010. FilmDistrict, which was launched in September 2010, formed a partnership with TriStar Pictures to release Soul Surfer in theaters. The company originally anticipated releasing the film in 300 theaters, but the company was impressed enough with the final product to pursue a release in 2,000 theaters. The film was released in theaters in the United States and Canada on April 8, 2011.
Bethany Hamilton (AnnaSophia Robb) is a teenager who lives in Kauai, Hawaii with her parents Tom (Dennis Quaid) and Cheri (Helen Hunt), and two older brothers. All are surfers, but Bethany and her best friend Alana Blanchard have grown up with a passion for the sport and enter a competition. Bethany's church youth ministry leader, Sarah Hill (Carrie Underwood), is disappointed when Bethany has to withdraw from a planned missions trip because of the contest. Bethany and Alana place first and third, respectively, while the second place winner, Malina Birch (Sonya Balmores), proves a fierce rival to Bethany. Bethany invites both girls up on the winner's box with her, but Malina ungraciously refuses. The Rip Curl surfwear company offers to sponsor Bethany and Alana in competition, in return for an advertising contract. One night before Halloween, Alana and Bethany sneak off with some friends to go night surfing. Later, while Tom goes to the hospital for knee surgery, both of the girls go surfing with Alana's father and brother. As Bethany dangles her left arm in the water, a shark bites it off near the shoulder. Alana's father gets her out of the water and puts a tourniquet on Bethany while Alana's brother calls 9-1-1. An ambulance meets them on the way to the hospital. Just before starting Tom's surgery, Dr. Rovinsky (Craig T. Nelson) is called to the emergency room to treat Bethany. She has lost her left arm, along with 60% of her blood volume, and Dr. Rovinsky calls her survival a miracle. Bethany's injury disqualifies her from the Rip Curl photo shoots, but she wishes her friend Alana well. Rip Curl is supportive of her, providing a prosthetic arm. The arm is cosmetically perfect and has bendable joints, but Bethany angrily rejects it when she learns it is not weight-bearing. The onslaught of publicity also proves to be a great strain on her and the entire family. Nevertheless, Bethany perseveres and, after a recuperation period, gets back in the water and learns to surf with one arm, eventually re-entering competition. She tells her rival Malina not to take it easy on her, and rejects a five-minute head start offered by the judges. She doesn't perform well because she can't stay on the board long enough to go out and catch a competitive wave, and Malina wins. Disheartened, she decides to give up competitive surfing. She sees the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami on television, which places her own problems in perspective. She decides to surprise Sarah by joining the youth group on another mission trip to help the devastated people of Thailand. The people are understandably afraid of the water, including a little boy. Bethany decides to go into the water with her surf board, hoping this will coax the boy into the water. It works, and the realization she can use her gift to inspire people motivates her to take up surfing again. Tom rigs a handle on her surf board which she can use to prevent falling off while paddling out to the waves, which is not prohibited by the competition rules. He also voices the belief that Bethany possesses a great surfer's instinct for sensing when the best waves will form. She enters the regional championship, thanks her rival for treating her as a serious competitor, and performs respectably, though she is still chasing third place. Suddenly, with only minutes left on the clock, the waves die down and all the surfers can only loiter, waiting for them to start back up. Tom's belief in his daughter's instinct is proven when she is the only one to sense a big wave forming, and she alone paddles out. When it forms, the others can't get out in time and she catches it just as the horn sounds. If it is in time, she will win, but the judges rule that the time has expired. Malina is the winner, but she has finally learned good sportsmanship from Bethany and she invites her up on the platform.