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Local actor Ross Thomas plays brother of shark attack survivor in ‘Soul Surfer’

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Posted: Saturday, April 9, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 9:12 am, Sat Apr 9, 2011.

Woodbridge native-turned-Hollywood actor Ross Thomas stepped away from the cameras to visit his local family and share his new film, "Soul Surfer," with them in Lodi on Friday night.

Thomas, his father, attorney Randy Thomas, and about 30 family members watched the 7 p.m. movie at Lodi Stadium 12 Cinemas, and then planned to celebrate at the Downtown tasting room, cellardoor.

"It's something I really wanted to share with my own family," Thomas said over the phone Friday afternoon. "It's such an uplifting, inspiring movie ... it really shows a family that bonds together."

Proud father Randy Thomas, a prominent attorney with offices in Woodbridge, was excited to watch the film in Lodi with his son, and he enjoyed the movie, too.

"I liked everything about this film," Randy Thomas said. "This is the best movie he's been involved in."

"Soul Surfer" tells the true story of shark attack survivor Bethany Hamilton, a young professional surfer who overcomes the loss of her arm in order to achieve her dreams. Thomas stars at Bethany's older brother, Noah. Helen Hunt, Dennis Quaid, AnnaSophia Robb and Carrie Underwood also star in the film.

Thomas grew up in Lodi and Stockton with his father and mother, Catherine Sawyer, a University of the Pacific professor. He likes coming home to enjoy local wakeboarding and snowboarding and home-cooked meals.

"I'm proud to be from here, proud to say I started here," he said.

Thomas has always been active. In school, he played rugby, football and baseball. Growing up, he took advantage of the Central Valley's location between water and mountains.

"I grew up wakeboarding on the Delta and snowboarding in Tahoe," Thomas said. "It's one of the great things about this area."

He still looks forward to visiting his family's condo at Kirkwood and is thankful for summers he got to spend in Aptos, where he got surfing experience that has helped him get several surfer roles.

After graduating from St. Mary's High School, Thomas moved to Los Angeles and was accepted into the acting program at University of Southern California, where he graduated in 2004.

Thomas, who describes himself as a type of Peter Pan because he's always wanted to try different careers, finds an attractive versatility in acting. His big break in "What's Bugging Seth?" allowed him to play a more difficult role of a deaf man trying to find love and a career despite his handicap. Then he got to have fun with starring roles in "The Cutting Edge 2: Going for the Gold" and "American Pie: The Naked Mile."

"It's a career that always has something new," he said. "It's ever-changing, and I get an opportunity to wear many hats."

For the role of Noah in "Soul Surfer," Thomas spent a lot of time with the real-life Hamilton family, who lived through the 2003 shark attack. He also spent a lot of time with Noah so he could play the role more effectively.

Even when he's not acting, Thomas fills his time with adventure and his passions. He has traveled the world, advocating indigenous rights and rainforest preservation. Last year, he spent months in the southern Peruvian Amazon shooting and producing a short documentary, "Extraction: The Plundering of the Amarakaeri Reserve."

"It was extremely eye-opening and humbling, and really puts a lot of life into perspective ... It makes me think, aside from acting, what can I offer?" he said.

Contact Lodi Living editor Lauren Nelson at laurenn@lodinews.com.

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