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.