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Ear­lier this spring, Maya Gabeira made head­lines for her near death ex­pe­ri­ence in Por­tu­gal. With a mas­sive swell hit­ting the coast, Maya joined fel­low big wave surfers at Praia do Norte, near the fish­ing vil­lage of Nazare. Maya was towed into a set wave, by fel­low Brazil­ian Car­los Burle but dur­ing one drop she hit a bump, broke her an­kle and nearly drowned. Car­los ex­plained, "I towed her into this wave and it was so big man. She hit this bump but she man­aged to ramp over it, and then she hit a se­cond bump and ramped it as well, but when she hit the third bump she didn't man­age to jump it and just slammed into it. She broke her an­kle then and there. Then she got caught in­side by a giant wave and she dis­ap­peared. Man, she was gone for about five min­utes. I couldn't find her any­where. I was so scared."

This is not the first close call for Maya. In 2011 dur­ing the big swell in Tahiti, Maya kicked out too late off one of the smaller waves on the day and got caught in­side. She took six mas­sive waves on her head and was pulled out of the wa­ter dazed and with a cut head. There was a lot of out­ward crit­i­cism of Maya, with many peo­ple be­liev­ing she was out of her depth. Even Kelly Slater made such a comment sug­gest­ing she was putting the lives of oth­ers at risk.

It is in­ter­est­ing to note how many peo­ple have said the same about the guys who surf big waves when they wipe out. When it’s a guy who needs res­cu­ing, the tow part­ner is sim­ply do­ing his job, how­ever, when it’s a fe­male surfer need­ing to be res­cued theres’s the feel­ing that they just shouldn’t be out there in the first place; a typ­i­cal co­nun­drum for today’s fe­male surfer. Big wave le­gend, Gar­rett McNa­mara, who was there at the time, re­leased the fol­low­ing state­ment: “Maya Gabeira is the tough­est wa­ter woman I have ever wit­nessed. She also caught one of the big­gest waves of the day. She took the hard­est beat­ing I’ve ever seen by man or woman any­where in the ocean and made it close to the shore all on her own. What hap­pened af­ter­wards was ter­ri­ble. It just shows how strong she is and how hard she has trained by how well she is do­ing af­ter go­ing through what hap­pened to her.” On the other side of the coin, big wave le­gend, Laird Hamil­ton said the fol­low­ing: “Part of the rea­son peo­ple go af­ter this is be­cause it’s a life long en­deav­our and you prac­tise for it for a long time. You evolve to this point where you are chal­lenged. There are a lot of rea­sons peo­ple choose to do dan­ger­ous things but for me I am sim­ply called to do it. You are drawn to this chal­lenge in your heart and this is some­thing that you are here to do. As far as what hap­pened to Maya, she doesn’t have the skill to be in these con­di­tions and she should not be in this kind of surf and I feel like it’s Car­los’ re­spon­si­bil­ity to take care of her and he’s just lucky that she didn’t drown.” Harsh words from such a le­gend in the sport.

The near drown­ing of Maya was heav­ily de­bated on the in­ter­net with many peo­ple speak­ing out against her abil­ity to surf big waves. It cre­ated much de­bate about whether she should have been out there in the first place and if women at all should be surf­ing big waves.

Around the same time, French surfer, Jus­tine Dupont was rid­ing what is now claimed as the big­gest wave rid­den by a fe­male in Europe, when she took off on a 45 foot beast at Bel­harra, of the south west of France. Surf­ing the wave for the first time, Jus­tine is non­cha­lant about her achieve­ments. As a pro­fes­sional short board and long board surfer, Jus­tine has not par­tic­u­larly trained for big wave surf­ing. De­spite fall­ing on her first wave she sim­ply had faith in her tow part­ner and went back out there and did it again.

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