It would be easy to say that the X Games Real Women's Maya Gabeira isn't afraid of anything. But that's a cop out. We're all afraid of the dark -- the world outside our personal comfort zones.
They key is to recognize what we are comfortable with and extend that boundary through out lives. For Maya Gabeira, the pushing has been done in increments -- ten foot, twenty foot, thirty foot and beyond.
Gabeira was born in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, and her early life was anything but average. Her father is Fernando Gabeira, a famed Brazilian author and activist. In the 1970s, he was a vocal dissident and outspoken critic of the military dictatorship in Brazil and was forced into exile. He returned to Brazil in '79, continuing his career in politics. He was extremely passionate about everything he took on. That was apparently passed on to his daughter, Maya.
Gabeira first surfed when she was 14 in an average beach break. At 15 she studied in Australia for six months and found herself increasingly draw to the waves. After graduating high school in Brazil, a year of competing followed. Then she moved to Hawaii on her own. The North Shore is a bold place for a 17-year-old kid to set off for, but ahead she pushed, undeterred.
She watched Bruce Irons win the Quiksilver In Memory of Eddie Aikau in December of 2004. That day changed her life and put her on a determined path to learn how to ride huge waves.
Within three years she was the best female big wave rider in the world. There was always a healthy fear, but she became comfortable in each situation. There was less and less dark.
If you're not familiar with the story from there, let's review the Cliff's Notes:
She stopped our hearts in giant waves to the tune of five Billabong XXL Awards, an ESPY for "Best Female Action Sports Athlete," and earned the world record for the biggest wave ridden by a female. Born with asthma, in 2011 she almost drowned after a heavy beating during the infamous "Code Red" swell at Teahpoo. Then she he made everyone's heart flutter a little by posing for the ESPN's Body Issue in 2012. ("I felt more artistic than exposed," she told me last year.)
But the other thing she has done is completely raised the level of surfing in waves over 15-foot for anyone without an Adam's apple. The Women's ASP World Tour lost its events at Teahupoo and Cloudbreak seven years ago. There isn't a single stop in Hawaii. Women riding big waves might be somewhat off the radar these days if it weren't for Gabeira's feats. Her training and diet both take extreme discipline. And she develops an intimate relationship with any purple blob that might be pulsing across the swell maps.
This year, fellow Billabong teammate, Keala Kennely won the XXL Best Performance Award, and it seems every year there are more and more women stepping up their game because of the bar that Gabeira has set.
"You know, for sure it's great to see more woman charging and getting recognition. It makes it fresh and more competitive and relevant," she says, speaking from her new home in Venice Beach.
Winters are generally still spent in Hawaii, but being so close to Los Angeles International Airport, the rest of the year makes swell chasing that much easier. This winter was spent at Jaws, outer reefs in Oahu, and Pasquales, Mexico. And she's not one to go strictly ski or shoulder power. She's mixing step-offs with paddle and tow.
"I like to do both, so I share my time between them. I still tow and love it, and I keep paddling and trying to push on that as well. I started big wave surfing paddling Waimea and that's my background in this sport, so I never really let that part of it go," Gabeira admits.
The X Games Real Women video contest presented her a new opportunity this year.
"It was pretty hectic to put together my Real Woman part," says Gabeira. "When you only have a few months and you depend on big waves, it can be quite stressful. I missed the opportunity to surf December 31 because early in the day, (tow partner) Carlos Burle got injured. That really set me back on schedule. I doubted I could do a good part after that as the winter slowed down dramatically. Luckily, I was able to score one afternoon session at Jaws to paddle and one week before the Real Woman had to be delivered, I scored Pascuales in Mexico. That was one of the best trips of my life, so I am really happy and fortunate that it came on the right time for me."
Vote now for your favorite in the X Games Real Women contest and stay tuned to XGames.com to find out the judges' favorite and fan favorite during X Games Barcelona, taking place May 16-19.