‘Soul Surfer': A real-life story hits the red carpet

Actress AnnaSophia Robb in "Soul Surfer." (CNS photo/Tri-Star)

By John Mulderig
Catholic News Service

Events this spring surrounding the New York opening of the Hawaii-set film “Soul Surfer” – a fact-based drama about devoutly Christian surfing enthusiast Bethany Hamilton – revealed some interesting details about her story’s odyssey from the big waves to the big screen. As related in the movie, Hamilton’s faith inspired her to continue competing in the sport despite the loss of her left arm in a 2003 shark attack when she was only 13.

At a dinner to celebrate the premiere, AnnaSophia Robb, who plays Hamilton, reflected on the challenge of learning to surf for the project. (Ironically enough, the 17-year-old actress – whose earlier films include “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “Bridge to Terabithia” and “Race to Witch Mountain” — hails from landlocked Colorado.)

Recalling the strength and coordination requisite to raise herself into a standing poison on a surfboard even with the aid of both her arms, Robb marveled at Hamilton’s ability to do so with only one.

When Hamilton stopped by the table a short while later, the two chatted about the friendship that has sprung up between them and about the bonds Robb has formed with other members of Hamilton’s close-knit surfing circle.

As for the future, Robb spoke of returning to high school and preparing to take the Scholastic Aptitude Tests. If her insightful evaluation of some of the material she has been reading for English class – including Oscar Wilde’s 1890 novel “The Picture of Dorian Gray” and Joseph Conrad’s classic novella “Heart of Darkness” – are any indication, Robb should have little difficulty with the portion of those exams devoted to reading comprehension.

Another visitor to Robb’s table was veteran TV actor and fellow cast member Kevin Sorbo (“Hercules: The Legendary Journeys”). After acknowledging his enthusiasm for “Soul Surfer,” Sorbo — who plays Holt Blanchard, the father of Hamilton best friend Alana – quickly warmed to the subject of his favorite good cause: a youth program called A World Fit for Kids. As none of his listeners would have been surprised to learn, Sorbo serves as spokesman for the California-based nonprofit.

The Manhattan branch of the Paley Center for Media – formerly known as the Museum of Television & Radio – was the venue for the opening itself the following night.  Bordering the regulation red carpet was a row of surfboards carrying the motto “Pray for Surf.”

Observing the scene, Bethany’s Catholic aunt and uncle Bob and Lynn Hamilton, who live outside Wilmington, Del., remarked on the harrowing details of the shark’s onslaught, and the arduous trip to the hospital their niece had to endure from the remote beach where it took place.

They also recounted the bizarre coincidence that awaited Bethany on arrival at the hospital: Her father had been scheduled to have knee surgery there that day. Instead, as Bob put it, “the doctor kicked my brother off the operating table” to make way for his own daughter.

Before moving to the front of the crowd to wave hello to passing relatives, both Hamiltons expressed their admiration for their niece, especially her faith-founded ability to transform a potentially devastating experience into something remarkably positive — for herself, for those close to her, and now for moviegoers.

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