A little more than a year ago, then 13-year-old Hamilton went surfing with her best friend and her family at a beach in Kauai, Hawii, where the water was calm and clear. It was rather routine for the 13-year-old amateur surfer.
While paddling to find the waves, Hamilton suddenly felt an intense pressure and a few fast tugs on her left arm. Without seeing the creature, she realized that a 15-foot tiger shark had bitten off almost all of her arm and a big chunk of her surfboard.
With the help of her friend, her friend's family, and strangers, Hamilton made her way to the beach, where she was quickly transported to the local hospital.
Now, Hamilton is telling her harrowing tale in a book, "Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board." She recounts how her faith helped her to recover and how, with the help and encouragement of her parents and brothers, she learned to surf again. She also explains how adversity has led her to a higher purpose in life.
Hamilton shares her story with viewers of The Early Show.
The following excerpt is reproduced with the express permission of publisher MTV Books, and may not be reproduced again without the express consent of MTV Books.
Chapter One: Halloween Morning
It came, literally, out of the blue.
I had no warning at all; not even the slightest hint of danger on the horizon. The water was crystal clear and calm; it was more like swimming in a pool, rather than the deep ocean waters in Kauai, Hawaii, where I go almost every morning to surf with my friend Alan Blanchard or the other girls on the Hanalei girls surf team. The waves were small and inconsistent, and I was just kind of rolling along with them, relaxing on my board with my right hand on the nose of the board and my left arm dangling in the cool water. I remember thinking, "I hope the surf picks up soon…" when suddenly there was a flash of gray. That's all it took: a split second. I felt a lot of pressure and a couple of lighting-fast tugs. I couldn't make out any of the details, but I knew that the huge jaws of a fifteen-foot Tiger shark covered the top of my board and my left arm. Then I watched in shock as the water around me turned bright red. Somehow, I stayed calm and started to paddle towards the beach. My left arm was gone almost to the armpit, along with a huge, crescent-shaped chunk of my red, white and blue surfboard…
A morning like any other
It was still dark, about 5 A.M., when my mom, Cheri, cracked open my bedroom door, peeked inside, and called, "Wanna, go surfing?" Before I had a chance to even open my eyes, our Shar-Pei, Ginger, jumped on my bed with her own, wet, "Good Morning!" kiss. It was my usual surfing wakeup call.
I was hoping for a perfect surfing morning. It had poured for the last three days, but I couldn't hear the sound of the rain plopping on the big elephant ear plants outside my window. Yes! Perhaps the storm had passed, and the warm tropical sunshine would be back today.
I lay there in bed a few minutes more, listening to my mom start her morning ritual: first, she flicks on the living room television and switches to the local island weather channel for the report while she brews a strong cup of coffee. She listens very carefully, not just to the forecast, but also to the buoy reports that tell of swell activity. That she translates all that info into a plan for me: she plots out where the best surf will likely be hitting the island.
I reached over to the nightstand and turned on the lamp switch. My lamp is pretty cool: it has a clear base that I filled with shells. In fact, my whole room is full of shells. I have a blue shell bedspread, shell necklaces, and boxes overflowing with my shell collection. I was once asked what I would grab if my room was on fire. No contest: I have lots of cool knick-knacks, and dozens of trophies from winning amateur surf contests, but I am sure the first thing I would grab would be my beautiful sunrise shells. (Their name explains their color). Sunrise shells are rare and hard to find in one piece, but they are most stunning shell that any beachcomber can find on Kauai.
I know lots of girls agonize over what outfit to wear to school or on a date. Me? I always obsess over what bathing suit to pit on for a surf. I have at least a dozen different choices hanging from knobs on my dresser (ah, the perks of being a surfer who is sponsored by a major clothing company, in my case, Rip Curl). My eye caught something black in my closet: black trousersthat I bought at a thrift store just a few days before as part of a Halloween costume. My best friend Alana got a pair, too, and we bought funky black shoes to match. We would be the "Mexican Mafia," a costume idea we just made up because it sounded silly, and we'd go dressed alike to the Halloween party at church and then off around the neighborhood. Then it hit me: today is Halloween.
Halloween in Hawaii is a little complicated. Unlike on the mainland, where people carve their pumpkins a week before the holiday, here it's so warm and humid, you only get a day or two to display a carved pumpkin before they grow a moldy beard or cave in on themselves in a slimy mess of goo.
While I got ready, the rest of my family was waking up, too. I could hear my dad, Tom, banging around in his bedroom upstairs. A lot of times my father would go surfing with me (he and mom were the ones who taught me to surf), but today he was going into the hospital for an operation on his knee. The surgery wasn't supposed to be very complicated—he wouldn't even stay in the hospital for the night. Still, someone—my mom, or one of my two older brothers, Noah or Timmy—would have to take him and drive him home.
I put on a red, white and blue bathing suit (to match my red white, and blue surfboard) and came from my downstairs room into the living room. My mom was already waiting with her keys, purse, sunglasses, video camera, and a bowl of raisin brand for me to eat on the road. I think she gets as excited as I do about surfing. That's because from the time she was my age, she's been a surf nut too.
"There isn't much showing on the buoys," she informed me, "Maybe we should check Cannons, I heard it was pretty good there yesterday."
Actually, I like Cannons a lot. Cannons is a surf spot located almost at the end of the road on the North Shore of Kauai. It gets its name from the circular shape of the waves, and also because sometimes, at the ride, it feels just like exploding out of a cannon. It's for experts only, because the waves can be very powerful, and a bit dangerous.
Surfers judge the quality of a wave by its shape; the more the top or crest throws out to the bottom of the wave, the better. This makes the wave form a little hole that a surfer can pull into, called the "tube". The quality is also judged by the length of the wave; a wave that breaks in a line is much better than a wave that breaks all at once, and Cannons has both good shape and a long ride.
My dog Ginger tried to come with us to Cannons—she always wishes she could come along for the ride—so I scooted her back inside and then tried to find my rubber slippers (people in the mainland call them flip-flops). They were buried in the pile of shoes outside our front door. Taking off your shoes before you go into the house is a firm custom in Hawaii. Nobody has shoes in their closet; they are all out on the front porch. This tradition is probably something left over from the early Hawaiian days or something the Japanese immigrants who moved here a long time ago to work in the canefields brought with them.
It was still very dark when we jumped into our "beater." Many people think that surfers drive around in those old wood-paneled station wagons like they see in surfer magazines or in old Beach Boys videos. In truth, most hardcore surfers in Hawaii drive what everyone calls a "surf beater." It's an older model car with lots of rust, faded paint, and if you're real lucky, free cockroaches! These are the kind of cars that you don't mind loading with sand, wet towels, bathing suits, melted wax and surfboards. It just kind of contributes to the car's charisma. Ours is a 1988 Dodge Caravan with a cracked front window (from being knocked hard by a too long surfboard) that my Dad purchased for $300. He tried to protect it against rust (not too successfully!) with a thick blue Earl Shibe Paint job.
"What a beast!" my mom declared after seeing dad's handiwork. We then decided to nickname it The Blue Crush after the all-girl surf movie. That, and the fact that we always crush everything into it: family, friends, and gear.
Our car may be junky, but at least the stereo works well. My brothers and I are all into music. I like Switchfoot, 12 Stones and modern worship music. My mom likes it too. On this morning, we decided to put in a CD by The David Crowder Band. I turned it up when the song, "O Praise Him," started playing. "Just don't blast it," mom reminded me, "We don't want to wake up the whole neighborhood."
We splashed through a lot of puddles left over from the rain as we drove slowly along our north shore town called Princeville. It was quiet and pitch black as we headed down the windy road that leads from the bluffs to the surf spots in and around Hanalei Bay. We clattered across the old one-car steel bridge that marks the official start of the North Shore. The bridge is too narrow and low for big trucks, so this part of the island only has cars on the road. Sometimes heavy rains close this bridge, stranding everyone who lives past it. Personally, I think kids who live there don't mind at all: they get to miss school!
In the darkness we passed lots and lots of surf spots; The Bay, the Bowl, Pavilions, Pine Trees, Middles, Chicken Wings, Wai Cocos. We were headed for the very end of the road called Cannons. Even though it was dark, with the window down we could smell the beauty of Hawaii: Perfumed plumeria and pikake flowers, the wet earth, grass and salty air. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes so I could picture it in my mind's eye. Hawaii has this ability to reach out and stir all your senses. It's truly a magical place, and I wouldn't live anywhere else on the planet. I looked over at my mom who was smiling as well—she felt the same way I did about our home.
We drove past the old Waioli Church and the Mission house where some of the first missionaries to Hawaii lived, worked and died. Finally, we crossed over a very narrow wood bridge that marked the end of our journey.
The calm before the attack
The sun wasn't even up yet. I got out of the car to take a look but it was too dark to see the water. I couldn't hear much either. If the surf is really big, you can actually hear it cracking on the reef from a long way away. "It doesn't seem like much is happening" I told my mom.
Pretty soon the sky east of us begin to lighten, and I could see that the surf wasn't anything like it had been the day before. The small waves dumped right onto a sharp coral reef instead of barreling past it. I was itching to get on my board, but the water was just not going to cooperate. If you surf a lot, you get used to this kind of thing. This island has some of the best waves in the world but my friends and I still get "skunked" sometimes. There is nothing you can do about it, just go home and do something else.
"I guess we should head back," mom sighed. She was equally disappointed. "Maybe the surf will come up tomorrow. " I knew that if I didn't surf I would be home doing Social Studies, English or Math. Even though I'm working to be a pro-surfer and get to home-school in order to help with those goals, my parents pile on the homework.
As we were driving away, I gave it one last shot: "Let's just check out Tunnels Beach," I suggested. Tunnels is a short walk from Cannons. It's called Tunnels because of all the sand-filled alleys that run through the shallow part of the reef. For tourists, it's a popular place to snorkel. Surfers like it because way out on the edge of the reef is a lightening-fast wave that is good both winter and summer.
"Sure, we can go take a look," mom replied. She did a wild U-turn under the trees, and pulled into the last space in the parking lot. While she waited, I walked down the little sand path and watched the waves for a while. Still nothing much. And I didn't really want to paddle out by myself. So I figured that I was doomed to schoolwork and trudged back to The Blue Crush. Suddenly a black pick-up truck turned into the parking lot. It was Alana Blanchard, my best friend, her sixteen-year-old brother Byron, and her dad, Holt.
They, like me, were on a mission to find something to surf in.
Okay, I thought, maybe this wouldn't be a total washout after all. Even though the wave conditions were crummy, everything else was working: It was sunny, the water was warm, and my friends were here to hang with.
"Can I stay, mom?" I asked. "We think we'll paddle out for some tiny reef zippers." Why not make the best of it?
"Just make sure Holt brings you home" she called, and with that, I raced down the jungle trail with my friends to Tunnels Beach. I dug my toes into the warm sand and watched the rising sun illuminate the blue sea. Amazingly, the rain hadn't clouded the waters here. Even with all mud-filled rivers pouring into other surf spots, it was as clear as glass.
I glanced over to see Holt putting wax on his board (to keep his feet from slipping). I put the surfboard leash on my left foot, and my Tom Carroll surfboard under my arm. I was happy that I was going surfing, I was happy to be with my friends. I felt the warm water slosh against my ankles and just before I jumped in, I looked at my watch.
It was 6:40 on a beautiful Halloween morning.