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My Life /
July 10, 2019

Throwback From the Making of Unstoppable

It’s hard to believe how much time and effort has gone into the making of my upcoming film Unstoppable.

On one hand it feels like it came together quite quickly, but on the other, I can see the many hours of training, travel, and collaboration that was invested over the last few years, by me my hubby Adam and Aaron Lieber (who Filmed and produced Unstoppable).  5 years to be exact, and what an epic journey. Ha, I even got pregnant and had my first son Tobias in the process! It was during the filming of Unstoppable (about 3-years ago) that Toby Neal wrote this article. In it she captured insights into my early months as a new mom as well as the monumental achievement of riding a few remarkably BIG waves at Jaws.

Just thinking about it all makes me smile. With Unstoppable being released nationwide this week, I’m stoked to be re-posting Toby’s piece, and sharing more of this adventure with you…

Happy reading!

Surfs Like a Girl, Moms Like A Woman

Authored by Toby Neal, January 6, 2016

There was six-foot surf goddess in my bedroom!

Bethany Hamilton surfs like a girl, but moms like a woman, and last week, Bethany arrived on Maui with her hunky husband Adam, baby Tobias, father Tom, and filmmaker Aaron Lieber, to capture footage for her upcoming film, Unstoppable. Hiding out from media, they stealthed it at our place. What a blast!

I’ve written about Bethany on my blog before, here, here, and here. I’ve known her parents, Tom and Cheri Hamilton, since before she was born—they babysat me and my sisters when I was a kid growing up on Kaua’i’s North Shore. On and off over the years, our paths have intersected, most recently at her wedding to Adam Dirks, the kind, handsome Midwesterner who swept our surf princess off her feet.

Bethany and her crew took over the house in the best, bounciest, busiest way. Every day was something new: day one, getting to meet baby Tobias and Adam, hearing about the film project, and eating healthy takeout from Whole Foods around my koa-wood table. Day two, Bethany went for a practice tow session with the jetski driver she’ll be working with, DK Walsh, to get familiar with each other’s styles before he takes her out at Jaws (Peahi) for some really big surf. Day three, Sunday, we all went to church. In the afternoon I babysat Tobias while Adam and Bethany went to Star Wars, the first time they’d been able to go to a movie alone since they became parents. Day four, the big swell they were there to catch was due to arrive.

“Can I get a big bucket, Uncle Mike?” Bethany asked. “I need to soak my rescue device and get it ready.”

Mike went out to his workshop and returned with an extra-large paint bucket. He filled it with water and submerged the hi-tech looking vest in it. There it sat in our driveway, waiting for the big day.

“What’s this rescue device?” I asked.

“It’s a special inflatable vest I’ll wear out at Pe’ahi. If I’m underwater for too long, or pass out, it inflates automatically,” Bethany said, jiggling baby Tobias on her hip. “Now that I’m a mom I am especially careful. I’m more worried about pumping enough breast milk for tomorrow.”

“About that.” Adam grins. “How well do you know your neighbors?”

“Not well,” I said. “They’re new in this neighborhood. Nice young family, the dad’s a firefighter.”

Adam told me how his job was to pack all the baby’s stuff for the trip, and he forgot a part for the breast pump. While I was out walking the dog and he and Bethany were on our deck, they spotted a baby in our neighbor’s arms across the street. Adam went over to try and borrow the part.

“Well, I knocked on the door, and I was surprised because there were five guys sitting in the living room, talking story. They all looked at me funny as I held up the breast pump and said, “Hey, sorry to bother you, but my wife and I are visiting with our baby from Kauai and I was supposed to pack everything and forgot a part for the pump.”

I burst out laughing at the mental image of the young couple’s living room, full of off-duty firefighters, and Adam standing in the doorway asking for such an unlikely object

I burst out laughing at the mental image of the young couple’s living room, full of off-duty firefighters, and Adam standing in the doorway asking for such an unlikely object—but it’s obvious that Adam’s unflappable demeanor, large muscular size, and big smile, win him friends everywhere.

“I bet the Amazing Race taught you how to ask for anything,” I said. Adam and Bethany made it to third place in [Season 25’s] globetrotting reality show.

“It did. People are almost always generous and helpful.” The upshot was that the young mother gave him the part, and off he went. The couple’s biggest concern in prepping for the big filming episode was making sure Tobias had everything he needed for a day at our house with a sitter.

Aaron Lieber, the visionary young filmmaker putting together the project, was the most focused of the group. “Being a filmmaker is like being a conductor,” he said, running a hand through the crest of his unruly dark hair, his bright blue eyes ablaze with passion for his project. “There are so many elements that have to come together, and I’m always thinking ahead and plotting.” He became interested in doing a documentary on Bethany after watching her surf. “Everything else I saw about Bethany had to do with how ‘inspirational’ she is, as a shark attack survivor. We aren’t allowed to use that word in the film! It goes without saying. I wanted to show the excellence, the drive and passion of Bethany’s surfing, and that’s what Unstoppable is about.” He told us about the Kickstarter campaign that started off the movie and netted twice their goal. “But we have more footage to shoot, in Tahiti and elsewhere.”

Tall and graceful, Bethany moved like a dancer around my kitchen, picking up glasses and loading the dishwasher, using her hand, mouth and even her toes to move things around. The hashtag associated with her upcoming movie, #IGotIt, is her typical response to the question people seem driven to ask around her, “Do you need help?”

“I got it,” she says, and she really does.

Holding baby Tobias on my own hip, opening a bottle awkwardly with one hand, it dawned on me how, once she’s holding the baby with her remaining arm, she can’t do anything else with the other hand—because there is no other hand. And yet, she never seems to get in that situation, having a series of “hacks” figured out.

Tobias was almost crawling, and he scooted his sturdy body along my living room carpet. Spotting Bethany, he burbled and reached for her.

“Hey, little bug,” Bethany said, and with the unself-conscious grace that’s such a part of her, she knelt in front of the baby, arching her back and lowering her upper body to floor level. “Grab on, Tobes.” And the baby did, putting one arm around her neck and the other around the stub of her missing arm. She scooped him close and stood up with him pressed against her shoulder, a feat of athleticism I could only admire. “He’s so smart. I’ve been teaching him to grab onto me since he was only a few months old, and he really knows how.”

She scooped him close and stood up with him pressed against her shoulder, a feat of athleticism I could only admire.

Observant, calm, good-natured and physically strong and coordinated, Tobias at seven months clearly contains his parents’ remarkable genetic potential.

I asked Bethany some questions and she was gracious enough to answer them for the blog. “What is changing for you as an athlete now that you’re a mom?”

“We were already filming when I got pregnant with Tobias, which was a surprise. We put the movie on hold until I got back in shape after giving birth, but now I’m excited to be traveling and surfing big waves again. What’s different is that we organize everything around his feeding and naps! We’re figuring out how to travel with him, and so far it’s going well.” They seem to have it wired, putting the same little crib from home beside the bed in our room, where they camped out. Bethany fed the baby and put him down with a white noise machine going in the background for his naps. Even if everyone was talking loudly outside, after a few minutes of babbling to himself, Tobias nodded off.

“What do you see for your little family after you wrap up the film?”

“We’re still figuring that out, but we’ve got ideas about doing some online products and videos. I’ve got contractual obligations with Rip Curl and some other companies, and I’m planning to continue to do public speaking, but we’re loving being parents so much we want to have another one. We’re also working on building our house.”

Monday dawned. Everyone was jacked up on adrenaline,

bouncing off the walls in the living room, working their cell phones as Mike called in condition reports from his secret spot on the bluff above the Peahi surf break. Bethany warmed up, stretching and working her muscles as Aaron checked and re-checked his complicated mountain of film equipment. Finally ocean conditions were right, and they all blazed out, taking a boat from Kahului harbor for the hour-long journey to the famous surf spot, where they’d be met by a helicopter that was also filming the session.

Throughout the day I had peace and quiet working on my writing while a lovely young woman, Tatiana of the Butterfly Effect womens’ watersports gatherings, babysat Tobias. Evening rolled around, and my husband was the first to arrive back at the house, windblown and sunburned, and grinning.

“Did they get the shot?” Married to a photographer, I’ve learned that whatever else happens, “getting the shot” is key.

“It was perfect—conditions couldn’t have been better. The waves were big and Bethany was amazing.”

Later on, I jumped up and down and clapped my hands as Bethany, Tom, Adam and I reviewed Mike’s photos of Bethany’s epic rides shot from the boat. I may be biased, but I think Mike’s stills were the best I saw from the day!

Beside me, Adam watched quietly, his long arms folded, leaning against the wall as Bethany clicked through the photos, exclaiming over a shot where back-blown spray engulfed her in an otherworldly rainbow effect.

“How was it for you, watching her?” I asked him. The wave was the size of a two-story building, churning like a washing machine, and Bethany carved the surface with casual strength, a grin on her face.

“I kept praying, ‘Don’t fall, don’t fall,’” he said. “But I knew she wouldn’t.

“I kept praying, ‘Don’t fall, don’t fall,’” he said. “But I knew she wouldn’t. She’s so confident in the water. There was one scary wave where she disappeared out of view behind the shoulder and it was pretty intense for all of us—but then she popped out, totally stoked.”

That joyful “stoke” is more evident than ever in the radiant smile Bethany has fueled by the love of an exceptional young man and a beautiful son. Bethany is unstoppable!

– Authored by Toby Neal, January 6, 2016

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