Bethany Hamilton: Resurgent

How has Bethany Hamilton remained one of the most popular surfers, ever?

Few surfers during the last few decades are oblivious to the Hawaaian who lost an arm in a Tiger Shark attack in Kauai. Her name is Bethany Hamilton.

Occurring in 2003 when Bethany was 13, she survived the ordeal through an act of quick thinking by her Father and best friend at the time – Alana Blanchard.

Recently, Bethany has once again returned to the mainstream public eye through Netflix, in an documentary entitled ‘Unstoppable‘, based on the similarly worded autobiographical book – ‘Be Unstoppable: The Art of Never Giving Up’.

Bethany and Alana remain friends to this day, both now mothers of young children in Hawaii and enjoy handsome success respectively in their endeavours. They are still incredible surfers too.

Bethany Hamilton’s Search Popularity over time

Looking back as far as Google will allow (2004) shows the immediacy of her search visibility around the date of the attack.

It should be noted that Google made upgrades to their data collection through web searches a few years after the time of the drastic spike in 2011.

‘Bethany Hamilton’: Web Search Popularity 2004 – Present

Zooming in on this 2011-2013 spike event shows:

Bethany Hamilton search traffic graph
Major Search Traffic Surge 2011-2013: ‘Bethany Hamilton’

Within this shorter timeframe, ‘related searches’ (i.e the search terms used), do not change overall in wording as compared with those covering the entire 16 year period, and are constant

Examples of these keywords/phrases are below:

‘Bethany Hamilton Boyfriend’
‘Bethany Hamilton 2011’
‘Alana Blanchard and Bethany Hamilton’
Soul Surfer Cast
‘Malina Birch’
Typical search queries driving traffic over time

What accounts for the rapid surges in search volume?

This movie.

While historically receiving below average reviews online, Soul Surfer was reported to gross over 10 Million USD at the box office in its opening weekend, to an audience of over 80% women who were mainly below the age of 25.

At an original budget of $18m USD, it is estimated to have since earnt over $43m worldwide in total.

Following the initial success of this movie, general search traffic towards Bethany – as a search topic – saw a steady decline over the years, leading us toward a view of the present day:

Bethany Hamilton graph search volume post soul surfer
Search traffic: ‘Bethany Hamilton’ – During & Post ‘Soul Surfer’

Books & Media Coverage

Bethany currently has 9 published books, covering her relationship with fame, Christianity, family and her life. 4 have been published since ‘Soul Surfer’ was released in theaters.

The above short-lived surges in search popularity do not precisely coincide with the release dates of these books as we’d expect.

However, some can be attributed to the marketing effects of interviews with media outlets and appearances on television programs like ‘The Amazing Race’, or authoritative websites like Canada.com and Hawaiimagazine.com respectively.

Bethany Hamilton news 2014

Her television appearances include The Biggest Loser20/20Good Morning AmericaInside EditionThe Oprah Winfrey ShowThe Ellen DeGeneres ShowThe Today Show and The Tonight Show.

Currently, the average monthly search volume for ‘bethany hamilton’ sits at 110,000.

Who is behind the current search numbers?

Interestingly, the demographics behind current search patterns do not reflect those who were reported to be the main audience for ‘Soul Surfer‘:

Search demographic: ‘Bethany Hamilton’

Here, the male population accounts for just over 70% of searches, where the main age groups are between 45 to 65 years old.

Weighing this also against ‘Alana Blanchard‘ as a demographic data point, the majority also sits heavily towards males at 73%, and with the main age group in the 45-54 years old bracket.

An assumption explaining this, could be that the general surfing population worldwide is still mostly male, although it important to note that this is steadily evening out across genders.

Search demographic: ‘surfing’

Further to this, in Matt Warshaw’s states in his Encyclopaedia of Surfing: “Women accounted for an estimated 3 to 5 percent of the surfing population in 1990; a decade later the figure was thought to be between 10 and 15 percent.”

Can we then assume that by these growth rates, and the above data, that while the participation in surfing continues to balance between men and women, the consumption of surf media has not?

Sponsorship & Marketability

Bethany Hamilton first gained major sponsorship with Rip Curl at the age of 9 after winning numerous hawaiian surfing contests prior to the shark attack.

She most recently placed 3rd at the Fiji Women’s Pro on the World Surf League tour in 2016, only losing to Johanne Defay – who would go on to win the entire competition. Her partnership with Rip Curl was extended at the beginning of that year.

Even amidst the mass-culling of sponsored surfers from the big brands recently, Bethany retained her deal and will continue her competitive career under the Rip Curl banner in 2021.

Why did Rip Curl retain Bethany Hamilton as a sponsor?

Bethany represents something beyond simply attractiveness or skill-level – while evident nonetheless – that is apparent to the marketers at Rip Curl and her other sponsors.

It may seem crass to mention the click-through-rate of her name being associated with sharks, although it is proven to drive traffic outside of the surfing consumer base.

More than the above point, Hamilton embodies the idea of the ‘inspirational journey’ – lending itself well to the feature film, netflix documentary, and WSL tone of voice during competitions.

Bethany has over 2 million followers on Instagram, closely rivalling Kelly Slater’s 2.7. Her website has a domain authority of 59 (high for a blog) and 61.6k subscribers on her Youtube Channel.

Final thoughts on Bethany Hamilton

Bethany is not a persona within the media and culture of surfing who is likely to disappear. And for good reason, too.

She is a great example for young surfers – regardless of gender – who shows how we can grow on the other side of unfortunate life events. Not only this, she is a role model for non-surfers, too.

In the context of this site and our aim as a source of digital marketing & SEO information, she is also a great analytical subject.

We hope this shone through.
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