Bethany Hamilton proves herself ‘Unstoppable’ in film opening Friday

San Clemente filmmaker Aaron Lieber has spent the past five years documenting the life of “Soul Surfer” Bethany Hamilton for a documentary called “Unstoppable.” (Photo courtesy of Aaron Lieber)

There are days when Bethany Hamilton is so exhausted and in need of a break, she’d rather rest in bed. But she knows in order to be unstoppable, she has to keep pushing.

Her passion for surfing, along with her family and faith, keeps her motivated.

“I think that whatever obstacles come our way, we can live our unstoppable version of life,” said Hamilton on a recent day, as she took a break between surf sessions and media interviews at the Huntington Beach Pier.

Hamilton, whose shark attack survival story and comeback as a professional surfer was made into the popular Hollywood film “Soul Surfer,” is riding her next thrilling wave onto the big screen with a documentary called “Unstoppable,” which hits 200 theaters around the country this weekend.

Several showings of the film are scheduled throughout Southern California; a Q&A with Hamilton and filmmaker Aaron Lieber will follow the screening at 7:15 p.m. Friday, July 12, at ArcLight Beach Cities in El Segundo. Lieber also will discuss the film after the 5:05 p.m. Sunday, July 14 showing at Cinemark 20 Bella Terra.

It kind of captures the bigger pictures of my life … capturing motherhood, getting married. All the different things that have happened since I lost my arm makes for so much more of a film.

Bethany Hamilton

“Unstoppable,” which took five years to make, follows the surfer on her journey through motherhood, charging big waves, competitive dreams, as well as the challenges of her celebrity status while the world watches her do it all with one arm.

“I’m just excited to get it out there,” Hamilton said. “It feels like its been a long journey.”

Footage from her childhood, along with home video after a tiger shark took her left arm in an attack off the Kauai coast in 2003 when she was 13, are shown in the film.

But after showing how Hamilton coped with the realization of losing an arm, along with the media frenzy that followed, the film focuses on her next chapter.

Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable – Official Trailer

“Soul Surfer,” released in 2011 with actors Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt, only told part of the story.

“It’s very, very, very different,” Hamilton, 29 and mother of two boys, ages 1 and 4, says of “Unstoppable.” “It kind of captures the bigger pictures of my life … capturing motherhood, getting married. All the different things that have happened since I lost my arm makes for so much more of a film.”

Lieber, who grew up in Fallbrook and now lives in San Clemente, documented moments such as Hamilton charging massive barrels at Teahupo’o surf break while unknowingly pregnant with her first child; being towed into bombing Jaws, a big wave in Hawaii that only the gnarliest of surfers have conquered; and training so she can propel herself over waves and land 360-degree aerials better than some of the most elite surfers, male or female.

The story details how Hamilton can still compete — and win — against some of the world’s best, including beating champions Tyler Wright and Stephanie Gilmore at a contest in Fiji, taking care of her first-born child between heats.

Lieber said that while he’s excited for the film’s premiere, the days leading up to it are nerve-wracking, considering it is one of, if not the, biggest release of a surf documentary.

“History will write itself,” he said. “It’s pretty massive.”

Much like surfing, the film could be the best wave of Lieber’s life — or a major wipeout.

The film was well-received on the film festival circuit, winning the Audience Award at the Newport Film Festival and Best Feature at a festival in Hawaii. But in order to continue its momentum in theaters, it needs a big opening weekend.

“The feedback has been amazing. That’s the reason you make a film, playing it for people and getting to hear how they respond,” said Lieber, who studied film at Cal State Long Beach, graduating in 2008.

“Unstoppable” has resonated with people with disabilities, as well as surfers, athletes and mothers, many of whom have thanked Lieber with big hugs for making the movie.

“For young girls, this is a real woman who is uplifting and positive,” he said. “To see her struggle and see her succeed, and see her vulnerable and all these things is super important.”

Lieber said he’s even had football coaches make their male teams watch the film for inspiration and strength.

“It’s been fun, to see how Bethany’s story reaches all walks of life,” he said.

Hamilton credits her “super husband” Adam for helping her follow her surfing dreams. She also said part of her success is trying to be organized and staying motivated – while keeping her eyes on her goals.

“I think ultimately the passion keeps me going,” she said.

And her story isn’t finished. Hamilton was in town over the weekend training with Huntington Beach surfer Brett Simpson, two-time winner of the U.S. Open of Surfing, as she gets ready to enter the big event in a few weeks.

“I’ve competed there a few times, it’s a tricky wave to be successful at,” Hamilton said. “I was wanting to have that extra support and edge to make a good game plan.”

On social media, she posted a video of her broken surfboard after it hit the Huntington Beach Pier while she was trying to shoot the pier.

“Casualty of Huntington Beach pilings, just rode right into it,” she said in the video. “Thankfully, I’m OK. but sad my board is done for.”

There are plans to do a Q&A in Huntington Beach during the US Open of Surfing, which runs from July 27 to Aug. 4, though the location and date is still to be determined.

“I just really hope the film can be encouraging to everyone. It’s just amazing to be able to share my life in this way,” Hamilton said.

“I’m excited to see how everyone likes it. I just can’t wait.”

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