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In this episode of MarieTV, we do have some adult language. So if you do have little ones around, grab your headphones now.

Bethany Hamilton: There is more to my life than I could understand in that moment. And as painful and as upside down as it felt, I also knew that there was good to come. 

Marie Forleo: Hey, it’s Marie Forleo, and welcome to another episode of MarieTV and The Marie Forleo Podcast. Now, if you are someone who has been knocked down by some big waves in this life, I think you’re going to love today’s show. My guest is here to show us how faith and joy and determination can help make any of us unstoppable. Bethany Hamilton is an inspiration to millions. After losing her arm to a 14-foot tiger shark at the age of 13, she went on to become a professional surfer, winning a national title only two years later. From chasing big waves to chasing her kids, Bethany continues to use her faith, hope, and determination to rewrite the rules of being a modern role model. Bethany, thank you so much for making time to come on MarieTV and The Marie Forleo Podcast.

Bethany Hamilton: Glad to be here. Thank you for having me.

Marie Forleo: So you are such a force of nature. Most people know your story. Hopefully, our audience does, because I wrote about you in Everything is Figureoutable, because you are so incredibly inspiring to me. So, I want to dive right in, in your book, in Body and Soul, you wrote that two weeks prior to the event you and your mom actually prayed to God to guide you to be more than just a surfer. I want you to tell us about how you found not only peace, but purpose with everything that’s happened.

Bethany Hamilton: Yeah. It was amazing, really. My mom and I, my mom was an amazing woman or she still is but growing up, she just influenced me in such beautiful ways. And I think maybe it was just God working through her to prepare me for what was to come. And so, yeah, we had been praying that… I don’t know, I think it may be hard to understand but I think when we get so focused in on one thing and that it’s so life-consuming, it can almost become an unhealthy thing. And I didn’t want that to be this case with me and surfing. I mean, I love the ocean. I love pushing myself in my sport. Whether I’m professional or not, I’ll always be out there doing my thing, but as a 13-year-old, I also recognized the world needed more than just a surfer. And so, we’d been praying that.

And then, when I lost my arm to the shark, I was like, “Okay, God, this isn’t quite what we had in mind.” But at the same time, I had a peace that God was in control and that there is more to my life than I could understand in that moment. And as painful and as upside down as it felt, I also knew that there was good to come. And so I kind of, and I also had that mindset of like, “I’m just thankful to be alive.” So the gratitude and trust in God kind of led me forward in a way that… I don’t know, I could have had a really different life if I didn’t have those two leading factors.

Marie Forleo: What a beautiful blessing and a gift that your mom gave you. And you know, we were just talking about Everything is Figureoutable and it just makes me reflect on what an influence my mom has been and continues to be on my life as well. Like how some of that early messaging, especially around possibility and around faith and around trust, really can root us when the world turns upside down.

Bethany Hamilton: Mm-hmm.

Marie Forleo: And when our world turns upside down. And you just continue to be such a role model for so many. You know, a lot of folks in our audience have experienced traumatic events and for many, multiple traumatic events. Four weeks after your experience, you were back in the water. Tell us about how you found that mental and emotional and physical strength to get back out on your board so quickly?

Bethany Hamilton: Yeah well, it started with a conversation in the hospital. A friend of my older brothers by the name of Mike Coots had come into the hospital to visit and comfort me. And he himself had lost his leg to a shark several years before myself. And he actually learned how to surf with one leg. And he came in and talked with me and… I share this in my documentary, this conversation where you see my face light up when he says, “I went surfing this morning and I tried to pop up with one arm and it’s fully possible.” And I’m, you just see kind of the, the ticking and my mind just enliven, and at that point, it was so fresh. It was, I was only in the hospital for five days. So I was, you know, anytime in the hospital was just so fresh, it was hard to start dreaming or think about life. It was just healing mode. 

And, but then the dreaming started right then and there. And I was like, “Okay, I just have to at least try.” I didn’t want to lose this passion and joy and this life that… You know, I was in the water every day. I didn’t want to just let it go. And I think I realized too that my love for surfing outweighed my fear of sharks. So I wanted to get out there and give it a go. And I think when you’re that young too, there’s a really unique sense of resiliency and just so willingness to give it a go. And so I just got out there as soon as I could.

Marie Forleo: What was that first time back in the water like for you?

Bethany Hamilton: It was beautiful. So I was down at the beach with all my best friends who I spent my childhood enjoying the ocean with. My parents weren’t actually with me, but I called them and said, “Hey, I’m ready to get back out there, bring my board, let’s do this.” So my whole family came down and typically I ride a smaller surfboard, but they brought a big longboard, which is perfect for learning. And of course, I knew how to surf, but I was relearning how to do it with one arm. So I had the longboard and paddled out and had my best friends with me and just my whole family cheering me on. And the first couple of waves I tried to get, I fumbled off the board and couldn’t do it. And then my dad’s like, “Here, let me help you.” I have always been kind of a more, “I got it on my own,” sort of a girl.

And, but he helped me verbally. He’s like, “Okay, you’re going to have to do things differently now. So put your hand in the center of the board versus both hands on the side.” So the next third wave that I caught, I put my hand in the center, popped right up, and rode it all the way to the beach. That was kind of a start of the future me. And even then at that point, it was just pure, raw joy of… I was crying happiness. And it was also the start of, or the continuation of, my healing. And, you know, I think a lot of people just maybe are thinking, “Well, what about sharks?” And I know that’s a factor, but for me, the ocean is my healing place. It’s my place of rest and peace and place to be me and be free. And so I think I needed that in that time of just the world feeling not like it should be at 13 years old.

Marie Forleo: What a beautiful story. You shared something else. And I want to talk about this, because so many people that I’ve met throughout the years have this chronic sense of feeling left behind. No matter their age, no matter their circumstance. There’s almost like this undercurrent in our society that we’re either behind or we’re being left behind. And you shared, “I couldn’t help imagine what I would have accomplished if I hadn’t lost my arm.” So we’re sitting here in the middle of still a global pandemic. And I imagine there’s folks listening and watching right now that have lost different things, or perhaps even many different things. Do you have any perspective to share with folks who… Or someone’s wrestling right now with an unexpected loss or change?

Bethany Hamilton: Yeah, I think just have grace on yourself and the situation and patience and none of the beautiful things happen overnight. And I think in this world, we’re going to have trouble, no matter how hard we try to avoid it, it’s just inevitable. So to expect that that’s not going to happen is almost setting ourselves up for a pain in a way that it was going to happen regardless. So being able to find our, our gratitude and our reason to push forward and our meaning on a daily basis, you know, I think all of us are feeling it this year. We’re all struggling with different things of how the world is in this moment. And yeah, I think just, for me, it, it definitely helped to get back in the ocean in that time. And even to this day, I’m like, “I need the ocean to stay sane.”

But, so finding not only that thing, that outlet that you can enjoy, but in that place of peace and rest, but also people to talk with. I mean, I’ve had to have a lot of conversations this year just to stay positive. And you know, my husband and I are talking every single day about everything. But in a way that’s like, “How do we want our future to look regardless of how the world looks and what do we want for ourselves and our family?” We can still step into that, that, that motion of like, “This is what I want for my future.” And even though it feels hard right now, we’re going to get past it. And one day we’ll be able to heal from the pains that we’re feeling today.

Marie Forleo: I want to underscore something you said, ’cause I feel it’s so wise and all of us need to hear it multiple times. You know, you were sharing how problems are going to happen no matter how, and this is what I heard, no matter how hard we work or how much we prepare, right?

Bethany Hamilton: Mm-hmm.

Marie Forleo: Or how focused we are on being the best at what we do and trying so hard to be world-class at whatever it is. It could be around raising your family. It could be around your professional career. It can be around your business. And I want to highlight that because I think it really is so important. I know in, in my own past, especially in my earlier days, I had an illusion that if I worked really, really hard, that I could take care of everyone and everything to such a degree that I could prevent most things from going wrong.

And even though the wiser part of me knew that wasn’t true, I think that nonetheless, I got lost in that illusion for a little bit, and it drove me, I think, in a, in a, in a fairly unhealthy way. So I just wanted to thank you for sharing that bit, because I think it’s so, so important. We often talk about it on our team that like, “Hey, problems are actually to be expected.” Like, they are guaranteed. That stuff is not going to go the way you planned and that’s not going to go the way that you expect it. So the game is not to, you know, try and eliminate problems, it’s actually to be strong enough to handle them.

Bethany Hamilton: And I think of like, you know, obstacles are constant. So being able to find our way to work through that situation and overcome. And I feel like this year has posed a lot of obstacles my way. So I’m constantly having to adapt and reevaluate which direction I’m going. And then also hone in on the most important things to me and let that being the leading force through, through the problems.

Marie Forleo: Let’s talk about the power of owning your story. You know, you’ve been a public figure for 17 years and you’ve shared how our culture is so addicted to drama, which I completely agree with. And that people hang tight to the drama points of life. So naturally, folks get very focused on the drama points of your life as well. Tell me about how you have navigated or what you would share with people. You’ve, you’ve said, “Oh,” you know, folks say, “You’re the shark girl.” or, “You’re that girl that lost her arm.” Let’s talk about the power of owning your story and your own narrative.

Bethany Hamilton: Oh man. Yeah. I would say when it first happened to me, my story was world-renown and my personality was not the type to thrive under the spotlight. I really didn’t care to be the center of attention. So it felt really hard for me, but I also started to get letters from young kids hearing my story. And when they saw me getting back in the ocean, it really inspired them in their own journey of overcoming. So that’s when that kind of, that prayer started to come into fruition. The prayer that my mom and I had of like, “I want to be more than just a surfer.” And so, I kind of, I would be… To be honest, I was half-heartedly embracing that…

Marie Forleo: Yeah.

Bethany Hamilton: …as a young girl. And I think that’s only natural. I wanted to be playing with my friends and rambling in the ocean. I didn’t want to be in the spotlight, but I just kind of held, hung on and started to see the beauty more and more. And then now I just… Yeah, I’m honored to have been able to share my story in so many ways. And you know, I think of all the children who are suffering. There are so many kids that are laying in hospitals and fighting for their lives and they’re able to watch my film, Soul Surfer, and that just… All the sacrifice that I had to take to do that, was beyond worth it for little kids like that. And I have really grown to love storytelling and, you know, I don’t necessarily revolve my life around it. But I see the beauty in it and it kind of continues to push me in different ways, but I think we all can be storytellers in our own way.

It doesn’t have to be on a big scale, but we all have something to give and share. And I feel like in today’s culture it’s so… So much of our storytelling has become purely online, but I’ve found I need in-person conversations and sometimes older women will surprise me with just sharing something out of the blue and it’s such a blessing in my life. So I think knowing that we can bless others through our storytelling can be really a beautiful gift.

Marie Forleo: Yeah. And owning the story that not only you tell yourself and others and being able to write and rewrite that narrative as many times as you wish, as it comes from your heart. And I also want to share, you know, what you’re expressing in terms of, so many of us tell our stories online and what you enjoy is having those conversations. Having those conversations. And in the age of the pandemic where we are right now, the fact that you and I can connect, I’m in New York, you’re in Hawaii, this is amazing. I’ve actually been doing a lot of deep dive research into the impact of the internet and digital tools, specifically on our cognition and on our mental and emotional health, and you’re right on.

The power of conversation, whether they’re through the phone or in a setting like this, where you can see someone’s body language and you and I can, you know, our eyes can meet and you can hear the tone of voice. It is so transformative and healing for our souls and far, far outweighs, you know, a quick text message or, or something that is, you know, just a, almost like a dopamine hit, like a little piece of dopamine Pez that you might get from social media. So just some more wisdom there.

Bethany Hamilton: I liked that reaffirmation of my kind of instinct, ’cause I haven’t really done a lot of research. I’ve just felt it. I, my love language I’ve found is having quality time. And so when I haven’t seen someone in months or, you know, really long time, I start to feel distant from that person. And I’ve kind of been working through that of knowing, you can’t always be with people, but it doesn’t mean they don’t love you.

Marie Forleo: Yeah.

Bethany Hamilton: But the really key relationships in my life, I’m really guarding of that quality time and really try to highlight that and make it really meaningful, so that those relationships don’t suffer.

Marie Forleo: Yeah. And it, you know, we had another guest on MarieTV a few years back. His name is Dan Buettner and he has a whole body of work around blue zones, which is these areas around the Earth, right, where people live the longest, healthiest lives. So they’re not just, you know, over a hundred years old and kind of barely hanging on, they’re over a hundred years old and there is vitality and health and movement. And one of the key components is actually relationships.

Bethany Hamilton: Wow.

Marie Forleo: And that’s more of that science. So you are so right on track in terms of healthful, joyful, meaningful living. You shared also that even after returning to surfing and traveling, getting married, that you still had some unfulfilled goals when it came to surfing. Can you tell us a little bit about listening to the voice inside of you and what decisions kind of came from that?

Bethany Hamilton: Yeah it was… Competitive sports are such a challenging realm to be in, because so much of it is just… There’s so many variables, especially when it comes to surfing. And, you know, I always had that strong confidence that I had the, the top-level surfing ability, but being able to format that into competitive scene was really challenging. So around the age of 22, I think it was, I took a break from competitive surfing. And somewhere around that time, I was also making Soul Surfer and just kind of getting other opportunities that I was embracing a bit more. And then around that time, I also met my husband. So it was a really beautiful time in my life, but there was also that sense of letting go of something that I had invested so much time and hadn’t really had the success I wanted.

So after we got married, I had connected with a filmmaker and we started working on a project. My husband was on board to just support me through that time, because it involved a lot of travel. And the last thing we wanted to do was be apart. But he wouldn’t really be able to, from his perspective, be able to work. And so, yeah, we just jumped on that journey of creating my film and documentary, Unstoppable, and it kind of just created the space for me to pursue my professional surfing ambitions. And it wasn’t necessarily all competitive. A lot of it had to do with progression and big wave surfing.

So I’m not going to get too nerdy on all that, but really just pushing it in the ocean in every realm of the sport. And I was literally… It was a really challenging time, but so much fun. It’s the type of environment I just thrive in. And I’ll be forever thankful to my husband for cheering me on during that time. And yeah, I just got to go push in my sport and get back to it and rock it.

Marie Forleo: That’s so awesome. I love that you did that. And I love that you created that framework for yourself to say, “Hey, I’ve got a lot more to do here and I’m going to do it in my own way and in a really fresh way.”

Bethany Hamilton: And even along that journey, I even… I wasn’t planning on having my son at that time, but I got pregnant and it was midway through the project. And I just had a total meltdown, ’cause I had been working so hard and it just felt like not the right timing, but we just kind of rolled with it. And then I kept pushing it and kept kind of finishing off a lot of my kind of bucket list goals, even with motherhood. So it kind of added that special kind of hint of like, it went from the two of us to the three of us, charging it around the world and cheering mama on. So…

Marie Forleo: So beautiful.

Bethany Hamilton: Pretty fun. Fun times.

Marie Forleo: So awesome. You’ve shared, “You don’t need easy, you just need possible.” Let’s talk about the myth of motivation and why you’ve chosen to focus on discipline instead?

Bethany Hamilton: Oh man, you know, I think about my natural kind of approach to life. And I tend to be really disciplined and I didn’t really realize that until the later, later in my twenties. My husband’s like, “Gosh, how do you stay so motivated?” ‘Cause I would just be on it with my, my cross-training and the gym and getting in the ocean all the time and working with coaches. And he just, he came from a really athletic background through high school and college. But when he was around me, he was just stunned I guess. And he, granted, looks a lot more muscular than I do. I’m more of a curvy body, but I’m really strong. And my body does amazing things in the ocean. So I’m like all for myself, but it’s amazing to see how much he works out versus me in the past and just the differences.

Marie Forleo: I love it.

Bethany Hamilton: But yeah, I think I learned a lot of that through surfing actually. Surfing has taught me almost more than anything else in life. It’s just taught me so many life lessons, but the ocean can be so frustrating at times and it’s wanting to beat you down and send you back to the beach and just frustrate the heck out of you. And, but then there’s always that longing desire for that next amazing wave that just gives you the most incredible high. And it’s just such a beautiful feeling. So that kind of propels you to push past those pain, pain moments, especially when you’re paddling and sometimes you’re duck diving. It’s just like, kind of the translation of a lot of people who are very athletic, they’re mentally strong too, because they’ve had to push past those physical pain points and that carries over into the mental and pushing past those mental pain points.

So I think just my sport has taught me to stay… You know, you never know when your next success is. Kind of… Like you can will your success as much as you want, but a lot of times you just have to keep putting along until it happens. And so now I carry that over into motherhood, into my relationship with my husband, just kind of continually reevaluating the pain points and working on those and healing those and supporting those people in my life the best I can. And then also into my workplace and different areas of my life that… I don’t know if that answered your question? I really kind of got lost in there.

Marie Forleo: I think it was great. No, you did awesome. And I think there’s actually just such a great metaphor, right? About waves and the ocean and life. There’s always another wave coming.

Bethany Hamilton: Mm-hmm.

Marie Forleo: And you really do, you’re going to get… I mean, I think most people who’ve had an experience of swimming or who’ve, you know, been lucky enough to spend any time at the ocean, I grew up on the Jersey shore and I love being in the water similarly to you, although different, I’m not a surfer. The water is so healing for me. I feel like it rearranges me on a cellular level and, you know, I’ve gotten knocked on my butt a lot of times by waves and then you go like, “Well, okay, am I going to stay down with the gulps full of saltwater and sand all over? Or am I going to get back up and go again?” And…

Bethany Hamilton: Sometimes the ocean too, it’s like, you’ll have an incredible wave coming at you, but it’s also kind of scary. So there’s that moment of like, “I have to choose to overcome this fear I’m feeling right now. And the reward on the other side is going to be amazing.” And so throughout my life, just learning to deal with those fears that I have and recognizing them and not letting them over consume me. But kind of weighing the pros and cons throughout that fear. And then knowing what can be on the other side, if I can let it go or push past it.

Marie Forleo: I’ve got a little bit of something new here. So some of the kiddos of our Team Forleo parents were really, really excited about us having you on the show. And so they actually have a few questions for you if that’s okay.

Bethany Hamilton: Yeah.

Marie Forleo: One of the kiddos says, “How can someone get over the fear of big waves?”

Bethany Hamilton: Okay. So my advice, if you do want to go and get out there in the big surf, it starts with just being confident with your swimming. When I was young, I did swim team. And so that helped me a lot when it came to being in the ocean and being around bigger waves. And I realized that I’m such a strong swimmer, if anything happened, I can swim myself out of this situation and everything will be okay. But also it took time too, you know, I worked my way up. I didn’t just go from little iddy biddy waves to the huge ones. I slowly got more and more confident in the bigger and bigger surf. And over time I got, I just became normal. So sometimes I’ll go out in certain surf and my heart’s not pumping at all, because the waves don’t feel scary to me. But then I’ll go and really extra big surf. And I’m like, my heart is pounding. I’m… You know, all senses are fired and my guard’s up, but I’m also ready to tackle it at the same time.

Marie Forleo: Bethany what’s one of the biggest waves that you’ve surfed?

Bethany Hamilton: It’s hard to say, but definitely as big as houses, there’s one that maybe measured around 40 or 50 feet.

Marie Forleo: Wow.

Bethany Hamilton: It’s a wave called Jaws. And so it’s a type of surfing called toe surfing, where you have a jet ski pull you into the wave and it was incredible.

Marie Forleo: Is that something that at this point where you’re at in your journey that you still crave? Are you still going like, “I need some really big waves”?

Bethany Hamilton: There’s definitely that kind of love-hate. And I think it’s the mother intuition kicking in. ‘Cause I am, I have deep respect for the ocean and I have that kind of lurking fear and just knowledge that it’s powerful. So part of me wants to be there. And then part of me doesn’t just for the sake of the worst-case scenario happening. But when I do surf that sort of wave, I usually go fully prepared. I’m usually wearing a helmet, a life-preserving jacket, there’s a safety team. So, just kind of depends, but I definitely have craving for solid waves.

Marie Forleo: So this is another question from the kiddos on Team Forleo. They said, “You’ve done so many cool things. What’s something you haven’t done, but you really want to do?”

Bethany Hamilton: Oh my goodness. Wow.

Marie Forleo: I know, they’re great, right? Asking such good questions.

Bethany Hamilton: Yeah. Well, I guess a lot of my dreams now have to do with my kids. I really just, I haven’t taken my kids to the snow yet, so I really want to take them to the snow and take them skiing or snowboarding. I’m trying to think there’s somewhere in the world I wanted to visit. I don’t know, just probably involving more travel, maybe go to Alaska as a family. That’s where my husband and I went for our honeymoon. So we want to go there again and just kind of adventure the world and surf different waves. And I’m pretty easy to please. I don’t need a whole lot to be happy as long as I’m near the ocean. It, it’s usually all good.

Marie Forleo: I can agree with that a hundred percent. Is there anything else that you want to share before we wrap up? Anything now or next, or just a message that you want to leave our audience with today?

Bethany Hamilton: Oh gosh. I think, you know, I think the year of 2020 has been a really big challenge for us all and I’m feeling it along with, I know a lot of you are too. So I think I, I just urge you guys to focus on the positives, look for the good. I think our country specifically needs people to cheer it on and celebrate each other and love on each other. Even if we have differences and we have difference of opinions, different beliefs. But I think we’re in a really special time where we need to kind of cling together and cheer each other on and fight for the good and beautiful things in this world. And yeah, I know that this time will pass and there’s more beautiful things to experience moving forward.

Marie Forleo: Thank you so much for who you are. You’re such an incredible soul and your commitment to sharing the power of joy and resilience and determination and love is a huge inspiration and continues to be. So thank you, Bethany, and thanks for making time today.

Bethany Hamilton: Thank you, Marie.

Marie Forleo: Isn’t Bethany amazing? That woman is such an inspiration. I’m curious, what is the biggest insight that you’re taking away from this conversation, and most important, how can you put that insight into action starting right now? Now as always the greatest conversations happen over at the magical land of So head on over there and leave a comment now. While you’re there, if you’re not already, make sure you subscribe to our email list and become an MF Insider. We send joyful, inspiring, motivating emails once a week, and I don’t want you to miss out. Until next time, stay on your game and keep going for your dreams, because the world really does need that very special gift that only you have. I’ll see you next time on MarieTV and The Marie Forleo Podcast.

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