Riding the Waves
A Family's Unwavering Faith in God
by Cheri Hamilton
Having a girl to raise was different than raising two boys, but I pretty much stuck to the same format. I encouraged the kids in all their team sports, because it helped them work together, make friends and establish good, healthy relationships built around activities instead of hanging out at a mall or something else.
As with both boys, we wanted to give Bethany swimming lessons at an early age, but since we couldn't afford them, I taught her myself. Before long, she was on the local swim team. Soon she was winning swim meets in her age division.
Being on swim team also helped our kids build their endurance in the water. By the time she was seven, Bethany could swim a mile without getting exhausted. This would come in very handy as she started to surf larger waves farther from shore.
Of course, there was the surfing, surfing, and more surfing!
The local surf shop in Hanalei started a surf team. Charlie Cowden, the owner, hired Russell Lewis as coach and opened the team free of charge to the young kids who would commit to Coach's training regimen.
Seven-year-old Bethany and her friend Alana signed right up. They were given a nice discount at the surf shop, loaded up with stickers and T-shirts and then put to drilling exercises in between surf sessions. On a team of all boys, they were the only girls.
The combination of swim team and surf team really pushed the girls' endurance, confidence and skill level; before long they were winning surf contests, alternating between first and second place. Within a few years, it was apparent that Bethany had a shot at being a professional surfer. When I was young, being a pro surfer meant some clothes and maybe a small check if you managed to win a surf contest. Today the sport is fueled by corporations offering winning purses, and by sponsors offering salaries to the top-ranking surfers on their rosters.
Women's surfing, while still not as lucrative as men's, is far removed from the stereotypes of beach-betty eye-candy. Any girl talented enough to make it up the ladder in ratings can earn a fair living being a professional surfer. Motivated and encouraged by her equally talented friend Alana, Bethany became a hard-charging fixture around Kauai, dropping in on waves that even surfers years older considered good-sized. When she was still in grade school, we started to travel so that she could compete in the local junior contests on the other islands.
I remember the night when Tom and I sat down and talked about schooling options for our daughter. It seemed that her God-given talent was taking her in a direction that would make typical school unworkable, particularly as her competition schedule and training took place during normal school hours. We decided to enroll her in school courses online. Alana did the same thing; so they each kept their closest surf and training partner. As friends, they strategized, using the same game plan so they could fast-track their surfing careers together.
By the time Bethany was 13, she had a solid track record in junior surfing competition. It couldn't have come at a better time, because the boys were getting established and independent. Noah had graduated, finished his two years at Heald Business College and was entering into his photography career; Timmy was finishing up high school and looking toward the future. Now my focus could go primarily to Bethany. I became her surf mom and coach, her cheering section, cook, chauffeur and laundry maid. I even videoed her surf sessions so we could critique her later. She managed to get picked up by Rip Curl, which was an important help.
The rest of the family helped Bethany's blossoming surf career too. It was Timmy who encouraged her to paddle into bigger waves. It was Tom and I who shot hours and hours of video, and Noah took hundreds of photos of her. Nothing makes you learn to surf better than watching yourself to catch and correct mistakes and bad habits.
The prospect of 13-year-old Bethany becoming a professional surfer before she was out of high school was getting brighter. A surfing career, as a believer in Jesus Christ, should not simply be a means for gaining money, trophies or accolades, but a way to give glory to God. I remember that Bethany and I prayed about this very thing several weeks before she was attacked. Our prayer went like this: Lord, bring Bethany into the center of Your will and use her surfing to glorify and honor Your name. It never occurred to us the manner in which God would answer our prayer.
From Raising a Soul Surfer ©2011 by Cheri Hamilton and Rick Bundschuh. Published by Regal Books,
www.regalbooks.com. Used by permission. All rights reserved.