Most people would shudder at the idea of getting caught up in a 73.5-foot wave. But for Brazilian pro-surfer Maya, it presented the perfect opportunity to break her 2018 world record for the largest wave surfed by a female. The athlete skillfully maneuvered the massive swell earlier this year, at the inaugural World Surf League (WSL) Nazaré Tow Surfing Challenge in Praia do Norte, Portugal. It was the same site where she established her first world record by riding an equally-intimidating 68-foot wave.
"This wave was during the [WSL Nazaré Tow Surfing] contest, and although I say I'm not a competitive person, I was very in the zone and braver than I usually am on this day," said Gabeira. "I was risking more than I usually like to do. When I let go of the rope, I had a feeling it could be the one but wasn't sure. The speed was very high, but the noise that the wave made when it broke made me realize that this was probably the biggest wave I'd ever ridden."
Though Gabeira completed the incredible feat on February 11, 2020, her record was not announced by the Guinness World Records until September 10, 2020. That's because the WSL officials had to first determine whether it was the Brazilian surfer or her competitor, Justine Dupont, who had ridden the largest wave. The wave's height from trough to crest is usually estimated with the help of photos and videos. However, the proximity of the large swells ridden by the two pro-surfers, and the possibility of a new world record being established, warranted a more rigorous analysis.
To help them with the process, the WSL recruited scientists at the Kelly Slater Wave Company and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The experts used photogrammetry techniques and other methods to precisely calculate the size of each wave. The findings revealed that Gabeira's 73.5-foot monster was two feet higher than Dupont's wave, earning her WSL's 2020 women's XXL Biggest Wave Award. It was also 3.5 feet higher than the 70-foot wave ridden by the 2020 men's XXL Biggest Wave Award winner Kai Lenny!
The 33-year-old believes her achievement may be a turning point in the perception of the ability of women surfers. "Our sport is very male-dominated, with the performances on the male side [being] often much stronger than ours as females," she told The Atlantic. "So to find a way and a place and a certain discipline to shorten that gap, and to conclude this year that a woman did surf the biggest, tallest wave of the year is quite phenomenal. It opens the idea that in other categories and other areas of surfing, this could be accomplished, too."
Though Gabeira, who has been surfing competitively since she was 15, seemed to effortlessly glide over the monster surf, it has not all been smooth sailing. Her first attempt at pursuing the world's biggest waves in Nazaré, Portugal, in 2013 could have ended the career of someone with less resolve. The surfer suffered a devastating wipeout that broke her ankle and almost caused her to drown. However, the "minor" setback did not diminish her love for the extreme sport and her determination to forge her legacy as one of the world's greatest surfers!
Resources: Pro.org, surfertoday.com, The Atlantic.com