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Bethany Hamilton: From Waves to Wheels

Bethany Hamilton, the American surfer who lost her left arm at age thirteen in a shark attack and returned to the waves to win a national title, has found a new challenge: driving. Specifically, driving an Isuzu D-Max pickup in the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles (Gazelle Rally), a women-only off-road competition in southern Morocco. Speed isn’t the goal. Rather, teams compete to find the shortest distance between checkpoints. Hamilton and her driving partner, Chrissie Beavis — a pro rally navigator and driver — finished eighth out of 127 entries in the four-by-four class, an impressive result for a new team. Sue Mead caught up with the twenty-three-year-old to find out why she traded her surfboard for wheels.

I really didn’t know anything about cars. The longest I’d driven at any one time before the rally was two hours.

It was a lot harder than I thought it would be. There was one day where we didn’t get to the checkpoints as expected; then I high-centered the vehicle, and then, half a kilometer from the bivouac, I got stuck in a little sandpit. Following that I hit a rock and broke the pickup’s tie rod. Then I had a little breakdown.

Driving with one arm was fine most of the time. Off-road driving is more about reading the different terrains, being patient, and not hesitating during intense situations.

Surfing is all solo. The great partnership with Chrissie was my biggest surprise.

I definitely would do it again and would love to do it with Chrissie. I’d practice more dunes driving, and I’d have a vehicle that was better set up.

At the end of the rally, I decided to stay a few extra days and catch a few waves.

The Gazelle Rally
Established:
1990
Total entrants: 150 teams
Length: 9 days, 6 stages
Winning distance: 1629 miles
Beavis and Hamilton’s distance: 1819 miles
Permitted navigation tools: Compass, ruler, 1:100,000-scale map

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