Forty-five feet. That’s the biggest wave ever surfed by a woman. And the one who did it was Maya Gabeira. She set that record at Dungeons, South Africa, in 2009 but was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1987, the daughter of a prominent politician.
Though she’s from Brazil, Gabeira didn’t fall in love with her sport until she traveled to Hawaii at age 17. And then everything clicked: She—and the rest of the world—discovered her fearlessness. Since she surfed her “first big day out at Waimea Bay,” she’s won five Billabong XXL Global Big Wave Awards and an ESPY that named her the best female action-sports athlete.
She takes that conquering spirit on the road with her. In this interview, she tells us that a life without traveling bravely wouldn’t be a life at all. She’s especially passionate about trips to Tahiti but yearns to see Tibet. In San Diego, she helps others face their fears during the surf lessons she teaches via the adventure-travel company Zozi. Gabeira specializes in the tow-in method—the better to get to big waves with—so if that’s something you’ve wanted to get into, consider adding a session with her to your bucket list.
Meantime, read this interview. In it, Gabeira muses that if she’d had the talent for it, she might have become a singer or actress. She makes no qualms about the fact that she’s addicted to her computer screen—Skype, she says, is a blessing to her global lifestyle. And she touches on her commitment to healthy living: Besides surfing, she’s also big into yoga and Pilates.
Describe your perfect day, from dawn 'til dusk. Where would you be, who would you meet, and what would you do? I’d start by having breakfast and a nice coffee in the dark while checking the news and forecast. Then I’d spend the morning surfing with friends and the afternoon doing a lunchtime Pilates class. Then I’d have dinner and a movie with my boyfriend [actor Jesse Spencer].
If you could travel somewhere you've never been, where would you go and why? Tibet. I have always wanted to check it out. I love the scenery and history of the place.
Where is the best place you've ever visited? What made it so special? Tahiti. It's a true paradise, and it’s where one of my favorite waves in the world is—Teahupoo. I also love the people and the food. If you make it out there, order the poisson cru—it’s the best sashimi plate ever.
If you could have lunch with any athlete or adventurer, who would it be and why? Thats a hard one. I can think of so many people I would love to meet. Let's say Pele, the Brazilian soccer hero. He seems so down to earth and is one of our all-time heroes in Brazil.
What’s something you can’t travel without? My computer. I need it to check the surf, for news, and for downloading and playing with photos and footage of my trips. I can’t live without Skype while on the road, either. I need to see my family on screen.
When you arrive at a new destination, what’s usually first on your agenda? Food is usually a first. Then I think about exploring and surfing.
What motivates you to keep surfing? The lifestyle, the challenge, and the fun. I love being in the ocean, as well as being healthy and active. I always come in from a surf session feeling refreshed and so much better.
When and how did you first venture into big-wave surfing? When I was 17 years old and first came to Oahu, Hawaii. That was when I really fell in love with the big waves. I started surfing Sunset and small Waimea that year. At age 18, I surfed my first big day out at Waimea Bay.
What advice you would give to a young athlete? Keep healthy, have fun, and be passionate about what you do because it shows on your performance. Also, it’s easier to reach the top that way.
Who was your most influential mentor? What did he or she teach you? [Big-wave champion] Carlos Burle. He taught me so many things. But maybe one of the most important was to always have fun with this sport. He never wanted me to stress out too much, and he kept me grounded.
Do you have a life philosophy? Not really, but I love being healthy and keeping life simple but exciting at the same time.
Have you ever made a mistake in your travels that made you think twice about going out again? Oh yes, many. But I would never stop traveling because to me, that would be like stopping to live. I learn with my mistakes, but I am not scared of being exposed to the challenges of a life on the road.
As a child, what was your dream job? If you gave up that dream, when and why did your plans change, and do you have any regrets? I don’t know what I wanted as a child. At one point I guess I told my mom I wanted to be famous—an actress, model, or singer. I was obviously a kid, because I couldn't sing to save my own life, ha!
If you had to choose a different career, what would it be and why? If I had any talent, maybe a singer. It must be incredible to be able to light up a whole stadium with your lyrics and on-stage performance. Music is inspiring.
Name three things you still want to cross off your bucket list. Paddle the left at Jaws.
Yesterday, media outlets and surfing enthusiasts went crazy when reports came out that Garrett McNamara had surfed a record 100-foot wave near Nazaré, Portugal. The one problem: McNamara never said it was a 100-foot wave. But he says it was the biggest wave he’s ever surfed—and he currently holds the tow-in surfing record of 78 feet. We called McNamara after another big day to talk about the potentially record-breaking ride.
How are you feeling? I’m exhausted. It was another great day.
How long were you out there yesterday before the big one came? I think about an hour.
Did it look like they were just getting bigger and bigger? That one broke in a totally different spot than all the other waves that day. And I was waiting for it.
Are you thinking, “This is the one”? As it was coming toward me I was just focused on getting it. Entering and navigating my way down. You gotta really choose your line.
So you’re riding this massive wave. What does that feel like? There is so much water moving and it is moving so fast. It was like it didn’t break forever and it finally crumbled at the top. It was a much deeper place than I have ever surfed. It was very different than any other wave I’ve been on.
When did you realize that it was a 100-foot wave? I had no idea how big it was, and I have no idea. I don’t measure waves; I’m just blessed to be surfing. There are some other guys who measure waves.
So who found out it was 100 feet? I have no idea where that came from. It’s still news to me. Nicole [Garrett’s wife] is trying to figure out where this number came from. Surf Europe was the first one we’ve found to put it up. It’s all from a picture, they don’t even know if it’s Photoshopped or not. My mother-in-law told me, “Believe none of what you hear and half of what you see.” That’s a good way to think about it.
Were you towed in or on the WaveJet? I was towed in. I’d rather be towed in on a wave this big. The JetSki got taken out and we were almost swept under the rocks. The second wave almost got me—it did get me—but it let me go right as it was about to take me into the rocks. I wouldn’t be talking to you if it had. It was the most dangerous situation I’ve been in outside of glacier surfing.
Amid an increasingly conservative Canadian
government focused on exploiting the land's resources, the country's indigenous people have risen up through a grassroots
protest movement called Idle No More.
The Idle No More protest movement was born in late 2012,
started by four activists in Saskatchewan who wanted to garner support to rally
against a wide-ranging bill, C-45, that would remove significant tribal
authority over Canadian waterways by overhauling the country's 130-year-old Navigable
Waters Protection Act. But the bill passed just before Christmas. Its passage
has only stoked the movement, which is also galvanizing indigenous
groups not only across Canada but those in the U.S. and South America, as well. Demonstrations linked to the movement have sprung up from California to Wisconsin to Maine.
Environmental justice is one of the major themes being
addressed, and in British Columbia, protests are focused on Northern Gateway, a
proposed pipeline that would run 730 miles, traversing the Rockies and
Coast mountain ranges and hundreds of waterways before its terminus in British
Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest, one of the largest contiguous tracts of
temperate rainforest left in the world.
While the press in the United States has not covered the
protests a great deal, Idle No More is major news in Canada and the movement
gained significant momentum via Twitter (which you'll see by searching
#idlenomore). Idle No More protests, often taking the form of flash-mob style
drum circles in shopping malls and other public areas, have been attracting
thousands of participants and resulting in civil disobedience arrests.
While the links between Idle No More and the Northern
Gateway protest movement are informal, they're part of a wider reaction among
indigenous Canadians to an increasingly conservative government, says
Chris Darimont, professor at University of Victoria Geography Department and science director for Raincoast Conservation.
This past Sunday, 43-year-old big-wave surfer Peter Mel nabbed his first victory in the Mavericks Invitational. Mel, a Santa Cruz native, has surfed the competition since the inaugural contest in 1999. The fabled break that creates monster waves off the California coast near Half Moon Bay had quiet beginnings after Jeff Clark first started riding its giant faces in the winter of 1975, but it has recently garnered a lot of attention. This past fall Twentieth Century Fox released Chasing Mavericks, a biopic about the late surfer Jay Moriarity, with Gerard Butler starring as his mentor, Frosty Hesson.
This February at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, director Josh Pomer will premiere Discovering Mavericks, an 80-minute documentary on the evolution of the break. The film features interviews with Clark, Mel, and Shane Dorian, among others. "The true story of Mavericks is way heavier than any Hollywood movie could imagine," according to the trailer.