Maya Gabeira, Action Sports’ Finest
Not every athlete makes it to the top of his or her respective game. And not all athletes can say that the sport they love almost took their lives from them in a scary accident. Brazilian bombshell and big wave surfer Maya Gabeira can say both of these things, and can also say that she’s got the looks, skill and heart to navigate almost any challenge that comes her way. In fact, she pursues them.
The daughter of a famous Brazilian politician, Maya Gabeira was born in 1987 and began surfing at 14 years old. Her love for surfing and chasing the big wave took her on an adventure throughout her youth traveling to Australia and to Hawaii before finally making it a career. Since then, Maya, AKA “Storm Surfer” has been actively pursuing the world’s deadliest tropical storms in hopes to land that next big wave. It wouldn’t take long before Maya found what she was looking for.
In 2009 while surfing off the South African coast, Maya successfully conquered a massive 46-foot wave becoming the largest wave to ever be ridden by a female surfer. As a result of this incredible feat, she would later win an ESPY Award for being the Best Female Action Sports Athlete. In addition to being credited with a World Record and a recipient of the prestigious ESPY Award, Maya Gabeira is also a five-time winner of the Billabong XXL Global Big Wave Award, with four wins in a row from 2007-2010, and a fifth in 2012. She’s been honored with a Teen Choice Award, Cartoon Network’s Hall of Games Award, and was even featured in the 2010 documentary Hollywood Don’t Surf!, which also stars Quentin Tarantino and Steven Spielberg.
Although her record-breaking surf skills and incredible looks have been enough to qualify her as one of the more highly touted female action sports athletes today, Maya Gabeira is known by many for having attempted and survived one of the largest swells ever caught on video (see below). The brave attempt would lead her almost drowning.
While riding an estimated 70-foot wave in Nazare Portugal during tropical storm St. Jude, wind gusts of over 100mph produced by the deadly storm caused Maya to wipeout. Before her rescuers could come to her safety, Maya was continuously pulverized by brutal waves and harsh winds leaving her exhausted and covered by whitewater. The big wave professional surfer says the wipeout broke her ankle, and another wave near the shore knocked her unconscious leaving her floating facedown in the ocean. Saved by fellow Brazilian surfer Carlos Burle, she was dragged to shore and resuscitated even though her skin had turned blue and she had stopped breathing completely. Thankfully she survived, lived to laugh about her experience and, like a true champion, hopped back on the board.
Though lately she’s been keeping busy with photo shoots for GQ, ESPN (apparently you can surf without clothing…) and others, she’s also taken time to advocate for protection of the ocean, working with international nonprofit Oceana to raise awareness for the public to keep the waters clean for the animals with whom we share it. And while we wait for the Billabong and Red Bull-sponsored surfer to take taller waves to task as her career continues, we can all be inspired by this beautiful woman who keeps grabbing life by the boards.