Bethany Hamilton's board on display at museum

Wed, Apr 20

As a lifelong surfer, Julie Cox looks at the board and marvels at what the 15-foot tiger shark did to it.

The bite gash is 15 inches wide and 8 inches deep.

The surfboard was the one Bethany Hamilton was paddling on in October 2003 when the 13-year-old was attacked off a beach in Kauai.

Bethany Hamilton's surfboard
Guy Motil/Courtesy California Surf Museum Bethany Hamilton's surfboard, on display at the California Surf Museum in Oceanside, Calif.

She lost her left arm, but didn't lose her courage. She has fearlessly dived back into the waves, become a top surfer and the subject of a movie, "Soul Surfer," that tells her inspirational tale.

Today, her board is on display at the California Surf Museum in Oceanside, where Cox is operations manager. And now, with the movie playing nationwide, Cox expects even more people to visit the museum to see the board it's had since April 2010.

It's by the far the museum's biggest attraction. Many visitors, says Cox, make a "beeline" for it. The display -- which includes the suit Bethany was wearing that day, her story and photos -- makes people stop and stare.

"It's the most commented-on item and the most talked-about piece," says Cox.

The board had been at the Hamilton home in Kauai until Jim Kempton, the president of the museum's board of directors -- and an old San Diego surfing buddy of Bethany's dad, Tom Hamilton -- asked if the museum could display it.

Cox, who has seen only one shark in her years in the water, says the board "hits home" with her and other surfers, but it's inspiring, too.

"It was really amazing to hold that board when it first arrived," she says. "Just to hold it. To see where her left arm was exactly positioned. It's very humbling."

Bethany Hamilton has yet to visit the museum, but she may in July when the U.S. Open is held in nearby Huntington Beach.

"We'd be thrilled," says Cox.