Why Isn’t Maya Gabeira’s Big Wave Surfing Record Being Discussed More?

It turns out measuring the size of waves is a tricky science

Big Wave Surfing In Nazare
Maya Gabeira of Brazil competes on December 23, 2019 in Nazare, Portugal.
Stefan Matzke - sampics/Corbis via Getty Images

Last year, an engaging article in The New York Times Magazine by Daniel Duane explored the gender gap in the world of big wave surfing. Among the surfers chronicled in the article was Maya Gabeira, an ambitious athlete who survived a harrowing attempt to ride an 80-foot wave in 2013.

Gabeira is back in the news as of late. Why? Because she’s accomplished something few surfers of any gender have done: she surfed a 73.5-foot wave earlier this year, the grandest achievement of its kind by any surfer in the past year. The wave was located in Nazaré, Portugal; Gabeira surfed it on February 11. And, as Maggie Mertens reports in an article for The Atlantic, it was enough to win the World Surf League’s 2020 women’s XXL Biggest Wave Award. 

Given that this all involves an elite athlete pulling off a record-breaking feat in a visually thrilling sport, you might wonder why you haven’t heard more about this. That, too, is something Mertens explores in the article. Some of it has to do with the fact that the women’s award wasn’t awarded at the same time as the men’s award — in this case, due to the WSL requesting more time to analyze all that Gabeira had done.

The Atlantic further explains that the science of measuring waves can be imprecise — another factor contributing to the delay here. All of which ended up meaning that the women’s big wave records were measured in more detail than those from the men in competition. While the complexities of the matter are numerous, it’s also hard to read the article and not feel like an injustice was done to Gabeira, whose achievement in this case is, literally, towering.

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