updated 03/27/2014 AT 6:00 PM ET
•originally published 03/28/2014 AT 4:45 PM ET
“My competitive drive isn’t as strong as it used to be,” Hamilton, 24, tells PEOPLE. “But [husband] Adam sees my talent, passion and ability, and has been encouraging me to take steps to keep improving.”
The surfer married youth minister Adam Dirks last August in front of 300 friends and family members at a secluded 130-acre estate in Hawaii.
Hamilton gained worldwide attention in 2003 when a 14-foot tiger shark bit off her left arm during a morning surf session near her home in Kauai, but she has continued to compete against the top women in the world.
Her win last week at the Surf-N-Sea Pipeline Women’s Pro event “felt amazing. I felt really strong, fine-tuned and consistent with my surfing throughout the whole event,” she says.
Hamilton says her long, win-less spell has sometimes been painful during these past eight years. Flying halfway around the world for a competition and taking second place “by a quarter of a point is discouraging. I’ve been devastated at times.”
But losing for so many years has also taught her some hard-wrought truths about life, helping her to “understand that there’s more to success than just winning.”
Hamilton, whose life story was made into the movie Soul Surfer in 2011, has no complaints when it comes to married life, describing it as “more awesome than I ever imagined.”