Huck catches up with big-wave surfer Maya Gabeira post-Nazaré.
Huck caught up for a casual chat with Brazilian big-wave surfer Maya Gabeira after she almost drowned at Portuguese surf hotspot Nazaré.
Every once in a while, a surf story shorebreaks into the non-surfing world. Big-wave rider Maya Gabeira’s near-death experience at Portugal’s famed surf hotspot Nazaré, on October 28, 2013, was one of those. Dragged under by rollers almost 100 feet overhead, her wipe out made the headlines of newspapers and blogs around the globe, while a video of Carlos Burle dragging a floppy body out of the whitecaps popped up on Facebook feeds everywhere. ‘The surfer who almost drowned’ has kicked up a lot of controversy by flirting with death. Laird Hamilton publicly questioned her skills and sanity, only to be answered by a groundswell of feminist support for the 26-year-old Brazilian athlete. We caught five minutes with her, on the right side of recovery. Here’s what she had to say, over a crackly phone-line from her Rio home.
Hey Maya, how are you?
I am fine! Just recovering here in Rio. Happy to be alive!
Was that wipe out last week the worst situation you’ve ever been in?
For sure. It was a close call. Without Carlos I probably wouldn’t be able to talk to you right now.
Was it worth it? What drives you to risk your life for surfing a wave?
I want to test my limits. And I feel like this is what I am here for – to ride big waves. I have always been attracted to bigger waves, even when I just started surfing. It’s such a rush! And it’s rare, you know? These conditions don’t happen very often. You wait and train for these days, so when it’s on, you gotta go!
So tell me about that wave?
It was early in the morning. I was out with Carlos and told him: Get me a big one! When I let go of the rope on this wave I realised how big it was. So I was going superfast and hit a first bump, then another one. The second one might have broken my foot, on the third one I finally fell. I got pounded and when I came up, I saw a huge one break right in front of me. That one took me down forever, and I ended up almost on the shorebreak. That’s where the trouble started. A third wave hit me and ripped off my life jacket. Under water, I blacked out, but when I came up, everything turned white.
So you knew you were close to shore?
Yeah the current dragged me right into the rocks. I was barely floating and just tried not to collapse so that Carlos could find me.
It has been reported that Carlos couldn’t find you for a while?
Yeah. It took about five minutes, because he had lost the radio and had to find me on his own. His first two attempts to get me failed, so he told me to just grab the rope. And with one last pulse of energy I held onto it – for a few metres at least.
The video footage shows you floating on your stomach?
Yes. I wasn’t breathing any more. But, thanks to Carlos who dragged me to shore with his hands and CPRd me!
As a professional surfer you depend on your sponsors. How much pressure is there from their side to go out and charge?
Well, big wave surfing is my job, sure. But at the same time, it is my passion. So there is nobody putting more pressure on me than myself. And I am really good at putting pressure on myself, trust me!
So how big is the influence of cameras? Would you surf the same waves if nobody was around to document it?
Absolutely. Look, that day, it was 7am, photographers and videographers were just beginning to set up their equipment. That’s why there is no good footage of my wave. I mean, I let go of the rope on the biggest wave ever surfed by a woman and nobody captured it properly.
What is your response to Laird after his criticism regarding your right to be out on a day like that?
You see, I’ve been hearing negative comments about my skills for a while now. I don’t care. Only the opinions of those that know me matter to me.
There is also a lot of discussion about if women in general are capable of riding the biggest waves. Do you see yourself as a front-runner of women’s surfing?
Not really. I see myself – and want to be seen – as an athlete, regardless of the gender. I see more girls out there than ever before, charging, and that is great. I train very hard, for sure as hard as the male riders, so I will continue to push my limits.
So this was far from the ‘wakeup call’ some were hoping for?
I can’t wait to get back in the water. The ticket to Hawaii is already booked!