Extreme surfer girl Maya Gabeira was born April 10, 1987 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Gabeira and her older sister grew up in a lively household as their mom, Yame Reis, is a famous fashion designer, and their dad, Fernando Gabeira, was a radical politician and former member of a guerilla group responsible for the 1969 kidnapping of the US Ambassador in Brazil, Charles Elbrick.
It wasn’t until Maya was 14 years old that started surfing. At 17, infatuated with Hawaii after watching Keala Kennelly in the movie Blue Crush, she moved to the North Shore, alone, and got a waitress job. She rode her first big wave at Waimea in February 2006, and whenever the swell was up she’d be at the North Shore’s heaviest breaks from 5:30 in the morning until dark. At 18 Gabeira rode her first big wave in Hawaii, and admits that from that moment she was hooked. “It was pretty nerve wracking,” she said. “I knew already that I wanted to do that, but when I actually did it for the first time, and felt like I had gotten in that level of big waves, I felt really addicted.” Maya’s father remembers how she “showed a certain tendency to love adrenaline.”
From then on Maya pursued big waves and becoming the most popular female big wave surfer. Her fans appreciated her for her courage and perseverance in a male-dominated sport.
In 2009, Maya rode the biggest wave ever surfed by a female. The massive 46 ft wave was at South Africa’s Dungeon. According to Maya, “My days previous to the big day were the biggest mission ever! The swell came with onshore winds which the waves and ocean bumpy. But in the end of the day everyone had managed to get some bombs and safely finish a day of big surf.” Though she had already won the Billabong Girls Best Performance Award three years running, this ride reaffirmed her status as the top female in big wave surfing.
Riding Big Waves
Riding monster waves not only requires courage, lots of it, but training and equipment is a must to pursue this sport and live to tell about it. Maya wears life jackets filled with oxygen cartridges that once activated will inflate and take her to the surface. She also has a safety buddy, fellow Brazilian big-wave surfer Carlos Burl. He rides the jet ski that pulls her into the huge waves and comes rescue her if she is in trouble. Unlike World Tour surfer, big wave surfers need wetsuits with flotation, impact resistance, GPS, and color-track pigment; oxygen tanks for their jet ski, plus training on how to use them; a rescue loop; custom-fitted helmets; knee and elbow pads for surfing shallow reef breaks; and a radio setup, so that the jet-ski drivers would be in constant contact with each other and the shore.
In addition to her safety equipment is the long hours of training. She must be prepared to hold her breath for minutes at a time, doing free diving training exercises in preparation. “I have a few great trainers who have taught me a lot about my breathing and how to exchange the CO2 and not blackout,” states Maya.
On October 28, 2013 a massive swell hit the coast of Nazaré, Portugal. The famous Nazaré wave is formed at the head of a 16,000-foot underwater canyon that begins 115 miles out in the Atlantic Ocean. Maya took off on a wave that was estimated by some at 80 feet, most likely the biggest wave ever attempted by a woman. After some whitewater caught her and caused her to fall, she was unfortunately held down by several more big waves. She lost consciousness and was rescued by her compatriot Carlos Burle. Besides having almost drowned, Maya suffered a broken ankle.
Since 2006, Maya has spent hundreds and hundreds of hours in the water and months towing and paddling into nearly all the world’s biggest breaks. Like her peers, she has trained to strengthen her lungs, and she can hold her breath for nearly five minutes. “She has dedicated her life to managing these risks,” says Greg Long, one of the sport’s best. “Her ability is there.”
But in the notoriously male-dominated world of big wave surfing, this ballsy Brazilian isn’t just keeping up with the men — she’s giving them a run for their money.
“The adrenalin is a huge part of it,” said Maya. “It’s the ocean at its strongest.”
In 2015, Maya overcame her fears and surfed Nazaré again. That same year Maya became the world’s highest paid big wave surfer, male or female, after her endorsement with Lululemon.
2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012 – Billabong XXL Global Big Wave Award – award for women’s overall performance five times, more than any of her peers. Voted on by a panel of journalists and industry insiders, the award is the Oscars of big-wave surfing.
2009 – Biggest wave ever surfed by a female (46ft at Dungeons, South Africa)
2009 – ESPY Best Female Action Sports Athlete – Surfed Tahiti’s world famous break Teahupoo.
Maya Gabeira’s Sponsors
Billabong | Red Bull | Lululemon | Yana Surf