Growing up in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 25-year-old surfing phenom Maya Gabeira spent plenty of time on the beach. But working on her suntan grew tiresome, so she decided to try surfing as a teenager. It didn’t take long for Gabeira to get hooked, and when she moved to Hawaii at the age of 17, she first encountered the giant waves that she’s become so well-known for conquering. Gabeira, who is now regarded as one of the best female big wave surfers in the world, currently lives on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii, and spends around five hours a day in the water. Although her father, politician Fernando Gabeira, is a founding member of Brazil’s Green Party, she hasn’t dived into politics just yet. But she is a natural ocean conservationist, and she filmed a public service announcement for Oceana. We caught up with her in between waves.
Can you describe the feeling of surfing a big wave?
Riding a big wave is a very unique sensation. When you do catch that big wave and you conquer it, it’s quite an amazing feeling. And I get to take in every second of that experience. And it empowers me because I went along with such a powerful force without fighting it and I am able to benefit from that.
Describe your connection to the ocean.
To be very honest when I was fourteen and I started surfing, it was a very scary place to me and a very uncontrolled environment that I knew very little of. I’ve spent a lot of time in the ocean since then, so I feel much more comfortable nowadays. And it definitely has become one of the places I go to when I just need to clear my mind. It always refreshes me.
Why do you care about protecting the ocean?
There are so many reasons why I really care about everything that Oceana is doing and everything that is done to protect the oceans. First of all, the ocean is where I work and it’s basically where I live. I get to experience the ocean when it’s the most powerful, when the waves are giant, after big storms have hit the coast and we jump in the water and we get to surf it. And that’s incredible, but we have to realize that it’s fragile too, because we’re destroying it. All of us have to get together and protect it because, even though it looks really strong and it is at times, it’s not going to save itself.
Any especially memorable moments on the water?
I was in Cape Town, surfing a place called Dungeons, where I surfed my biggest wave ever: recorded at 45 feet. It was one of the days that everything could have gone wrong, because I started the day off with my tow partner almost drowning and I ended up being able to rescue him. He was really out of breath and he was looking really damaged for the day. And somehow he recovered, and I decided to go back out there after maybe three or four hours of feeling really defeated by the ocean. But this time around we put ourselves together as a team and we decided that I should go and try again and that’s when I got the biggest wave of my life.