I’d say my family is a true surf family. We surf first and work second haha.
Surfing is such a part of our everyday lives that we really wanted to make sure that it was showcased correctly in Soul Surfer. We felt like Hollywood hadn’t portrayed surfing and the surf lifestyle accurately in the past and my family and I really wanted to get that right.
We explained all of this when we first talked to our director, Sean McNamara, in the beginning stages of writing the Soul Surfer script. Not only was our love for surfing a priority in the movie, we wanted to showcase women’s surfing and prove just how talented girl surfers really are these days!
Sean totally understood our perspective and really focused on making the surfing as authentic as possible. He didn’t want to shoot the actors on green screens (thanks, Sean!!), but instead, he wanted to put them actually out in the water, on waves with real surfboards.
This meant that many of the actors had to truly learn to surf before the filming could even begin!
AnnaSophia Robb (the actress who played my role) worked with my surf coach, Russell Lewis, for about a month prior to shooting the movie so that she could be comfortable in the water. She also did a ton of strength training and swimming in the pool! I was really impressed with how quickly she got the hang of surfing. Here’s a fun conversation that we had in 2020 about the filming of Soul Surfer and her experience learning to surf!
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Helen Hunt (Cheri Hamilton, my mom) was an intermediate surfer previously, but she wanted to become a better surfer. Her style of surfing is cruise-y and mellow and it was so fun to watch her gain confidence on slightly larger waves as the days went by!
Dennis Quaid (Tom Hamilton, my dad), on the other hand, had never surfed before and wanted to learn. He was an athlete already and so it was no surprise that within two days he was up and shredding! It was awesome because all the actors loved surfing so much that when they weren’t needed in front of the camera, they would just go surf! It was so fun!
We were usually in the water, but even when we weren’t, everyone still had such a great time hanging out together.
But, there was still a lot of careful behind-the-scenes work required for the surfing parts of the movie.
For example, the surf competitions were a little tricky to film.
The film crew broke the scenes into two sections – the portions on land and the portions in the water. They shot the crowd and the fans on the beach cheering and watching the competition with cameras facing towards the beach.
Then there was a different crew that was out in the water shooting the surfing clips. There were always 3 cameras in these situations. One was on the beach looking towards the surfers, one was on a jet ski following the surfers as they rode the wave, and one was held by a waterman to get close-up action shots from in the water.
The coolest thing for me was that I did the stunt doubling for myself! At first I was a little nervous because I’m almost a foot taller than AnnaSophia and I wasn’t sure if our body types would look too different to pull it off. But luckily, with the way they shot the scenes I was able to do almost all stunt doubles and you can hardly tell!
We started off surfing in Oahu because that’s where a lot of the movie was filmed. There’s usually tons of pretty great surf there so we were like, “ok, we’ll start here and see how it goes”. However, it was kind of an funky winter and we just really didn’t get the waves we were hoping for. I saw the first edit of the film and I thought, “this needs some improvement… it’s not quite up to par.” It was just kind of bland!
Even before the filming started, we were thinking we needed a trip to Tahiti just because the waves are so beautiful and powerful and the surf is just INCREDIBLE there. So when we realized that some of the scenes needed better surfing shots, my family and I pushed for a Tahiti trip with the crew. The trip came together and we went to Tahiti to film me riding some bigger waves. We got some amazing surf down there and I was so stoked! Most of the scenes in Soul Surfer where Bethany is riding larger waves, especially the ones that barrel, were filmed in Tahiti.
Here’s a video compilation of some Tahiti trips, including the Soul Surfer filming trip. Look for my neon green board – that’s one of the clips that made it into the movie!
After the shots from Tahiti were incorporated into the film, we were much more satisfied with the surfing aspect of the Soul Surfer! The cast, the crew, my family and I were so excited to bring a wholesome, encouraging movie to Hollywood that accurately represented the most beautiful, exciting and indescribable sport of surfing.
I hope Soul Surfer inspires you to get back on your board and overcome those gnarly waves we all face in life! Read my other blog posts on Behind the Scenes of Soul Surfer here and here. 🙂
P.S. If you like Soul Surfer, check out my documentary UNSTOPPABLE! This captures my life from childhood to motherhood and shows a more unfiltered portrayal of my life! (Both films are available on Netflix and Amazon!)