The first: “Why the hell did you put yourself here?” Then the second: “Where is my mom?”

To onlookers from the shore, Gabeira is a tiny, speck-like determine in opposition to a towering mass of water. Hunched and squatted on her board, she hurtles throughout the ocean at a terrifying pace whereas the wave thunders to the floor behind her.

The wave in query, which Gabeira caught at Portugal’s Praia do Norte break in February final yr, was the most important anybody had surfed that season and likewise the biggest ever surfed by a woman. Measuring at 73.5 ft, or 22.four meters, it surpassed her personal report of 68 ft set in 2018.

But the statistics and the footage solely inform a part of the story.

Before breaking world data, Gabeira endured three backbone surgical procedures and practically 5 years of painstaking rehabilitation having virtually drowned at Praia do Norte — the location of each her data — in 2013.

The accident occurred when Gabeira got here off what was at that time the most important wave she had ever surfed. She broke her ankle and was knocked unconscious, turning into trapped within the swirling waters earlier than her jet ski rider, fellow surfer Carlos Burle, was ready to assist her to the seaside for CPR.

“I had a lot of doctors telling me to stop because of the difficulties they had dealing with my spine and the uncertainty that continuing the sport at a high level would have on my future health,” says Gabeira, reflecting on the years of restoration that adopted the accident.

That she has been ready to return to big-wave browsing, not to mention break data, is testomony to the 34-year-old’s resilience.

In 2015, she moved to Nazaré — a fishing village north of Lisbon and residential to the world-renowned Praia do Norte break — to hone her craft.

Following the accident, she started to view the game in a completely different gentle.

“It humbled me a lot,” says Gabeira. “It showed me how much I didn’t have everything under control and organized, and how much more I had to improve.

“But greater than that, it actually indifferent me from achievements — which is humorous, as a result of then I did get two world data after it … however that was by no means the precedence.”

‘There wanted to be a lady doing that’

Growing up in Brazil, Gabeira was a severe dancer between the ages of 5 and 12 earlier than taking on browsing. Despite coming from a household with no connection to water sports activities, she was shortly hooked.

“I all the time thought from the start that browsing was a very addictive sport,” she says.

“The life-style and the sensations, the sentiments, the problem, and the truth that the ocean was all the time completely different, the wave was all the time completely different. It by no means felt such as you had it.

“I admired the guys and the boys that would be out there on big days, I admired their bravery and I thought that was something I wanted to see portrayed in women more.

“I feel that unconsciously actually drove me … I felt there wanted to be a lady doing that. I wished to be that individual.”

Gabiera competes at the Nazaré Tow Surfing Challenge on February 11, 2020.

Aged 17, Gabeira left Brazil for Hawaii to pursue a surfing career. The sport still takes her around the world (she is currently preparing to travel to Indonesia), but it is Nazaré — a popular hunting ground for big-wave surfers — that she calls home.

When massive waves are forecast, surfers from all corners of the world descend on Nazaré. It was there that Brazilian Rodrigo Koxa set the record for the largest wave ever surfed in 2017, taking the report from American Garrett McNamara, which had additionally been set in Nazaré.

“It’s very onerous if you’re anticipating a very special occasion, a lot of nerves pile up and you may actually really feel this loopy power that it creates,” says Gabeira.

“You really feel the power and everybody’s organizing and looking out on the maps and there is all this gossip in regards to the largest ever. That is one thing that makes me fairly nervous, so I’ve to work on myself to cope with that quantity of power coming in the direction of a day.”

Nervousness, excitement and fear are all impulses that Gabeira knows well. They are essential ingredients of big-wave surfing, a discipline that can involve long, uncertain waits until massive swells materialize.

“It has the worry issue,” says Gabeira. “(An enormous-wave surfer) has to be someone who desires to push themselves, that desires to be challenged, that desires to navigate that territory of worry and being scared and coping with being scared; someone that likes the ocean at that uncooked state.”

Photographers capture a giant swell at Nazaré last October.

That’s not to say Gabeira is immune from worry; today, she says she’s extra afraid of using massive waves than ever earlier than.

“It’s a lot simpler to not be that scared when you have not seen sufficient,” she explains.

“When you’ve seen all of it and you’ve got lived by way of it and you’ve got seen different athletes and different issues that may go flawed, a lot of shut calls, you begin realizing that it is good to push, but it surely’s very nice additionally if you’re in a place the place every part aligns and also you carry out and also you catch the most important wave of your life.

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“If it doesn’t, you don’t have to push all those different things to make it happen. I feel like I used to be a lot like that before my accident — I would compensate all the areas that didn’t click on the day and I learned my lessons.”

Living in Nazaré has ensured Gabeira will get that sense of alignment as typically as doable at any time when she enters the water.

Ahead of her most up-to-date world report, as an illustration, she says she felt calm and grounded beginning the day in her own residence: “Waking up from my own bed, with my dogs and eating the same thing and having that luxury of feeling like I was at home doing what I do every day — I had a really comfortable scenario around me.

“That was additionally one of many explanation why I moved right here, as a result of I believed that I had so many disadvantages on my comeback that no less than I wanted the benefit of giving myself a snug residence feeling of browsing Nazaré.”

Gabeira drops into a wave at Praia do Norte, Portugal, on January 18, 2018.

Battling for recognition

It transpired that browsing a record-breaking swell was solely half the battle for Gabeira.

After riding the 68-foot wave in 2018, a lengthy delay followed before the record was confirmed. Only by launching an online petition, which accrued more than 18,000 signatures, was she able persuade the World Surf League (WSL) and Guinness World Records (GWR) to establish a women’s category for the largest wave surfed.

At the time, Gabeira had traveled to the WSL headquarters in Los Angeles and was promised there would be support for a women’s category. As months went by and her emails continued to go unanswered, she started to think her efforts would be in vain.

“I believed the onerous work was going to be to come again and surf a enormous wave,” she says.

“And then I came upon that it was simply as difficult to make it a precedence for the WSL and the Guinness Book to set up the ladies’s class.

“First you take it personally, you’re like: ‘Why is this happening to me?’ And then you realize that somebody needed to care so much and fight for it to happen. It just happened to be me.

“It sucked that it was me as a result of it felt at occasions private, it felt humiliating, and it felt all types of the way, particularly coming from a close to drowning … But on the finish of the method, I began realizing that it was a change.”

GWR did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but a WSL spokesperson told CNN: “Prior to 2018, the WSL Big Wave Awards for the most important waves of the yr (limitless and paddle) have been open-gender classes, that means the boys’s and girls’s divisions have been mixed and judged collectively.

“Because the judging of the men and women had always been combined prior to Maya’s submission in 2018, Maya’s world record in 2018 was a special determination of the largest wave ever ridden by a woman and the first record of its kind, which set the bar for the category going forward.

“As a end result, judging had to span all the historical past of the game, evaluating all potential world report rides up till that time … The WSL has labored intently to guarantee waves are being measured and judged appropriately.”

Measuring the world’s biggest waves is a complicated process.

To confirm Gabeira’s latest record, experts reviewed footage of the ride and used scientific calculations based on real-world coordinates, her height, and the length of the Brazilian surfer’s board to determine the wave’s size.

Having surfed her first record-breaking wave in January 2018, it took eight months before the record was verified and the women’s category was established. The whole process, Gabeira says, was “horrible.”

“I had the concept of doing a petition and pressuring them publicly, which labored very effectively. It was a bit nerve-wracking for me to expose myself in that method and to put myself on the market … but it surely labored.”

To be vulnerable and to embrace the unknown is part of Gabeira’s life as a surfer; the fears and the thrills that come with the sport continue to be an allure.

“I’m all the time going to be challenged by that double normal,” she says. “Of being very scared after which additionally feeling like I nonetheless need to be a part of the game, I nonetheless need to be within the water and I nonetheless need to see these large waves.”



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