OCEANSIDE — A line of fans carrying surfboards and ukuleles stretched around the parking lot of Surf Ride surf shop and down the block, as they waited to meet “Soul Surfer” Bethany Hamilton and get her autograph on July 19.
Hamilton, 24, is a professional surfer who lost her arm in a shark attack, and went on to compete and win in national surfing competitions following her recovery.
Her message of overcoming setbacks by relying on person strength and faith has touched millions of people.
“She’s been a huge inspiration to me,” Isabella Fuiks, of San Diego, said. “I’ve dreamed of meeting her. She inspires me not to give up and to follow your dreams.”
Also in line to meet Hamilton was Rachael Risko,12, of Oceanside, Isabella Darisay, 12, of Carlsbad, and Chloe Pierson, 12, of Oceanside.
The girls are best friends who have been surfing together for two years.
Rachael is a team surfer for Surf Ride.
Isabella competes for Valley Middle School surf team.
They all have their sights set on surfing professionally.
“It’s all our goals,” Chloe said.
Hamilton began competitive surfing at age 8. By age 9, she had sponsorships from Rip Curl and Tim Carroll Surfboards.
At age 13, she placed second at the 2003 NSSA National Championships that took place in July.
That October she was attacked by a 14-foot tiger shark, and had her left arm amputated at the shoulder.
A month later she returned to surfing.
“She lost her arm, but still believed God would use (what happened) for good,” Chris Peck, Cobian marketing and event coordinator, said. “Her story creates a platform of celebration.”
By January 2004 she was competing, and in 2005 Hamilton won the Explorer Women’s division of the NSSA National Championships.
“God accepts me just as I am,” Hamilton said.
“I’m giving God the glory.”
At age 23 Hamilton married Christian youth minister Adam Dirks.
The fundraiser on July 19 was part of a promotional tour to share her story, introduce Cobian merchandise, and raise funds for the Friends of Bethany foundation.
Hamilton has a signature line of Cobian sandals. Part of the profits from their sale goes to her foundation.
The foundation supports shark attack survivors and amputees.
Recently the foundation held a weekend retreat for girl amputees in their teens and early 20s. Participants challenged themselves to surf, and gained confidence in what they were able to accomplish.
“It’s one of the most amazing things I’ve ever been a part of,” Hamilton said.
The foundation plans to hold another retreat next summer and expand its outreach.