At age 13, Bethany Hamilton was a rising star in the world of competitive surfing. The winner of top events who often beat out older competitors, she was well on her way to becoming a professional, already having secured sponsorships.
That may have changed on Oct. 31.
That day, Bethany was surfing in calm, clear water off the North shore of Kauai, Hawaii, with her best friend, Alana Blanchard, and Alana’s father, Holt. Seemingly out of nowhere, a shark attacked Bethany, biting off her left arm just below the shoulder, as well as a large piece of her surfboard.
No one saw what happened, but Bethany managed to remain calm enough during the attack to hold onto her surfboard until the shark let go. She yelled to let others know that a shark had bitten her.
“My arm was hanging in the water, and it just came and bit me,” she later told a Honolulu television station.
The quick thinking and actions of her friend’s father helped save her life. He used a surfboard leash as a tourniquet to stop her bleeding. Her top physical condition also helped her survive in spite of the tremendous loss of blood. Doctors say she is fortunate to be alive.
At last report, Bethany had successfully undergone two surgeries and was recovering, even contemplating surfing again.
“She is probably the best young surfer I have ever seen,” said an employee of a company sponsoring a surf team that includes Bethany. “She was going to be the women’s world champion and I think she still will be.”
A scientist interviewed on a national television news program following the attack reminded viewers that surfers take tremendous risks when they enter waters inhabited by sharks. They are, in effect, entering an unknown and often dangerous world inhabited by other creatures which may see them either as threats or their next meal. Their attack reactions are natural for them, he said.
In spite of the vulnerability the sport presents, surfers seem unable to stay away. “To not surf would be like taking away your breath,” said Jill Schwed of Kilauea.
Even though the shark attack was widely reported and county officials closed the area where it occurred, dozens of surfers dotted the waters the next day.
A surfer’s commitment to the sport redefines his or her relationship with the ocean. In spite of hidden dangers and the possibility of attack, surfers make themselves vulnerable every time they take their boards into the ocean.
Most would not consider it reckless abandon or uncalculated risk. They have practiced and trained and know what could happen.
Doing the will of God demands this same kind of radical relationship with our world. God asks us to be vulnerable, take some risks and attempt things beyond our experience and perceived abilities. That’s what Jesus was talking about in Matthew 10 when he sent the 12 on a mission with no extra provisions or means of personal defense.
We might rightly wonder: if we’re not willing to become vulnerable, are we really all that committed?
Jan Turrentine is managing editor of Acacia Resources.