Brazilian surfer Maya Gabeira recently made waves in the competitive surfing world on Sep. 10 for just that – surfing the biggest wave.
Guinness World Records announced that Gabeira set the new world record for Largest Wave Surfed (unlimited) by a woman. The crowning wave at 73.5 feet was surfed by Gabeira on Feb. 11 off the coast of Praia do Norte, Portugal in the World Surf League’s Nazaré Tow Surfing Challenge event. In addition, Gabeira was also honored by the WSL for her accomplishment, earning the Big Wave Awards’ Women’s XXL Biggest Wave title.
“The wave was pretty special although it was terrifying as well!” Gabeira said in a statement to Guinness World Records. Not only did Gabeira set a new world record, but the previous record she beat was also her own. Back in 2018, she rode a wave measuring 68 feet, claiming the 2018 WSL Women’s XXL Biggest Wave Award and setting the old record for the largest wave surfed by a female.
Her 2020 record-breaking wave also beat the year’s biggest wave surfed by a man. The winner, Kai Lenny, was recognized for surfing a 70 foot wave. “It was the biggest wave I’d ever ridden,” Gabeira told The Atlantic.
There is no easy way to measure waves. To determine the height of Gabeira’s 73.5 foot wave, a process referred to as “photogrammetry” was used. A team of scientists gathered and compared the size of known objects in the photographs to the wave, preparing a rough estimate of its height. They relied on knowledge of references such as Gabeira’s height, the length of her board and details about the geography of the location’s coordinates to make the conclusion. The team consisted of scientists from the Kelly Slater Wave Company, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and USC’s Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering.
The announcement of Gabeira’s win came seven months after the monumental wave was surfed. The delay, caused by the coronavirus pandemic, was due to the WSL issuing awards for the Big Wave Awards on a weekly basis throughout the summer on social media.
33-year-old Maya Gabeira began surfing professionally in Hawaii when she was 17. Her successful career has not been without obstacles. Back in 2013, Gabeira suffered a near-death wipeout while attempting an 82 foot wave. The accident broke her fibula and knocked her unconscious in a harrowing nine-minute ordeal. The incident sparked much controversy, considering women’s big-wave surfing was still a new concept in the competitive surfing world at the time. Laird Hamilton, a renowned surfer, publicly condemned Gabeira for her decision to attempt the wave at all, telling CNN, “She doesn’t have the skill to be in those conditions. She should not be in this kind of surf.”
Gabeira lost two years from her surfing career as she recovered, but with training, she got back on her board in 2015, unaware that she would go on to set multiple world records for riding the same big waves that once almost took her life. “I still love the sport as much even after so many hard times and serious injuries and trauma,” Gabeira told Guinness World Records.
Watch Maya Gabeira’s record-breaking surf here.