Most of us are familiar with the story of Bethany Hamilton: In 2003, the then-13-year-old was surfing in Kauai, Hawaii, when a tiger shark attacked her and ripped her left arm off just below the shoulder. Less than a month after her accident, sheer will and determination had her back in the water and on her surfboard. She has since gone on to win numerous championships and accolades.
Bethany’s story is coming to the big screen on April 8, when “Soul Surfer” opens nationwide. Ross Thomas — who is best known for his roles in "Beyond the Break" and "General Hospital" — co-stars in the film, playing Bethany’s older brother, Noah. Helen Hunt (below) and Dennis Quaid also star as Bethany and Noah’s parents. I spoke with Ross recently, and he told me all about the experience of filming this movie.
Celebrity Extra: I know “Soul Surfer” is about Bethany Hamilton, the shark attack and her inspiring recovery, but what can you tell me about the movie from your perspective?
Ross Thomas: Obviously the story is about Bethany and how she lost her arm in a shark attack, but it’s also the story of how she overcame all of the odds to come back and become a champion surfer. The Hamilton family is such a strong unit; they have a deep set of family values. They are a Christian family with a deep faith, and they rely heavily on that and really promote that. As a family, they have really helped Bethany become who she is, and they’ve always been such a source of support for her. The film kind of spans the early years and how they were as children, all the way up through the attack and then the aftermath of that.
CE: Did Bethany and/or the family come to the set while you filmed?
RT: Yes. It was really kind of neat because the family was with us the whole time that we were filming, which, I have to admit, was kind of intimidating at first, because I haven’t worked on a set where the real-life person I’m playing is right there. They were really respectful of the process. There was never any stepping on anyone’s toes.
When we first got to the North Shore of Hawaii, we got to spend some time with the family. We had a week or so of rehearsal and preparation before having to go into principle photography. One of the ways we really bonded, right off the bat, was to go surfing together. That’s such an awesome experience to go out and surf with Bethany Hamilton and with Noah and the whole family. That’s how we all bonded and became friends. I got to learn a lot about who Bethany is from sort of an inside view and get to know her. She is such an incredible woman.
CE: Tell me about Noah.
RT: Noah is the oldest of the three kids. He’s the quintessential big-brother figure. He was actively involved from the get-go with pushing Bethany to be the best that she could be and to dominate as a professional female surfer. When the accident happened, Noah was crushed to see her hopes and dreams come crashing down with such an unfortunate incident.
However, that bond of the family and the strength of the family coming together really helped inspire Bethany to get back out on the board. About a month’s time from losing her arm, she was already back out in the water learning how to surf again with one arm. Noah and Timmy and Sherry and Tom were all a part of that, and they were all out in the water together working on different ways to help her relearn how she’d be able to do what she loves again.
CE: This is such a great role in such an inspiring movie!
RT: Yeah, it really is. I’ve been following her story since it happened, and then all of these years later getting the opportunity to be a part of making her movie is so amazing. Bethany is such a source of inspiration to millions all over the world — her story of determination and faith and hope. It was such a pleasure making this film.