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An Interview With Maya Gabeira About Drowning At Nazaré

By Derek Rielly

Two days ago, Maya Gaberia, the 26-year-old from Brazil with a perfect brown-skinned complexion, was squashed in what you might wanna call 80-foot waves. A busted tibia (lower part of the bone, near the ankle) and drowning was the price tag Maya paid for taking on the world’s creepiest wave.

Nazaré. Portugal. Ain’t it just the name on everyone’s lips? But no one except the European surf gang gave it much thrift until Garrett McNamara and, later, Shane Dorian sugared it with Hawaiian cred. Dorian called it “super dangerous” and told a story of how the wave once snatched a little gal and her grandaddy straight off the beach. “I had one of those feelings that I should be happy with the two waves I caught,” said Dorian.

Uh, yeah, it was kinda serious out there.

Uh, yeah, it was kinda serious out there.

Maya and her tow-partner, the fabulous Carlos Burle, spent two weeks training for this swell. And when it dutifully arrived, they were ready. But sometimes, being ready, ain’t the same as being bulletproof.

Stab recorded this interview at midnight, Portuguese time, a few hours after Maya’s release from hospital. Maya sounded kinda awesome having rallied considerably from two days earlier when Carlos was performing CPR while giant waves surged up the beach. That laugh! What a strong disposition!

Stab: You sound great! When did you get released from the hospital?
Maya: I got released from hospital this morning. I was there for 24 hours.

Can you describe for me the jam y’got in… Yeah, Carlos towed me into a really nice big left and on the third bump I reckon I broke my ankle. When I fell that wipeout was ok. It was a little bit of a hold-down. The second one was pretty strong and the third one I think I was almost on the shorebreak and that was when the problems started because it was really strong. It hit me on my chest and it blew out my life jacket and it really hurt me. I went down, down, down underwater with no air and seeing black. I was basically going to black-out and somehow I made it up but when I hit the surface everything went white so I didn’t have any vision. But from what I saw on the footage, Carlos came twice to grab me but I had no movement or reaction. Finally he yelled at me to grab the rope and I grabbed the rope and I think that was my last little bit of energy to get me maybe five or 10 feet away from the current that was taking me into the rocks. But because I was being dragged my face was underwater. I was pretty much blacked-out by then and then my hand let go of the rope. From what I saw of the footage I was unconscious. A couple of waves went over me and Carlos found me again and I was closer to the shore so he jumped off the ski and dragged me to the shore and CPR’d me and…uh… thank God he brought me back to life.

What’s your first memory after being revived? Faces. Just people and remembering that I had almost drowned and where I was and a lot of water, water, water. And I was throwing up. I mean, it took a long time in my brain to come back and for me to open my eyes but as soon as I did I kinda knew where I was because it was so salty and it was so wet. I just could tell I had just drowned.

And then what happened? Were you on the sand? I was on the sand. I was starting to come back to life and a huge surge, huge water, washed everyone again. Some guys held onto me, Carlos and another guy. A couple of cars got washed away. It was pretty hectic but they held onto me and then after that they CPR’d me again, I think.

Do you remember being in the ambulance? As soon as I opened my eyes I remember everything. Red Bull, who were on the cliff, called the fire station so the firemen came and grabbed me.

What were you thinking about in hospital? (Maya laughs in the breeziest and most surprising manner) That I was just lucky to be alive and I was lucky I train as much as I do and that I have the best partner in the world and that our efforts at the end of the day weren’t perfect but sometimes we make mistakes. But in the very end, we were able to save my life. And I think that’s what matters.

continued below…

At the point of this photo being taken, Maya was blue in the face, not breathing, and dead to the world. Shortly afterwards, she was revived by Carlos and others on the beach. Photo:

At the point of this photo being taken, Maya was blue in the face, not breathing, and dead to the world. Shortly afterwards, she was revived by Carlos and others on the beach. Photo: TomanePhotos

What mistakes did you make? How will you hit big waves next time after this experience? I’ll definitely use a different life jacket because I don’t want my life jacket to blow out. I don’t want to get 70-foot shorebreak waves on my head with no life jacket. Also, to have a second ski so everything’s not on Carlos’ hands because that’s a big responsibility if you’re dealing with 80-foot waves on a shorebreak. If everything you’ve got is one ski, even though he wants to save me as much as he wants, he can’t lose the ski. So there’s two worries there. If you have a second ski, you can risk a little more when the rescue happens. Other than that, I broke my leg on the wave, I just did my very best to get as close to the shore as I could so I could get rescued by him and hope to get CPR’d on the beach.

What’s it feel like when your leg gets busted by a wave? (Laughs!) Oh, I don’t even realise my leg was broken until later on. (Laughs!) My life was way more important! My lungs were way sorer than that!

Can you describe what it’s like to drown? It’s really tough. But it gets peaceful when you black out. When you’re gone, you’re gone. And I knew before I was gone I knew that the only thing I could do was to try my very hardest to get as close as I could to the shore so Carlos could do his part. And I did my part and he did his part. That’s how we work. I try my best and when he sees me he’ll make sure he doesn’t lose my body.

Jay Z Christ. It’s a high-stakes game, ain’t it… Yeah, but that’s big-wave surfing when it’s 80-feet in the shorebreak, a beach break.

I remember Dorian telling me in another interview how rad the joint is, how creepy… Yeah, yeah. It’s really hectic. We had been training here a couple of weeks so we had the idea that it was going to be really, really gnarly when things got really big. But, honestly, you know, it was our first time ever here at that size. We got out there and we knew we had just a short window and we didn’t want to waste it. I was the first on the rope and I told Carlos, “Hey, just go for broke. Get me one wave and I’ll be happy with one wave”. So that was our goal, you know. One big wave each. And, unfortunately, my wave didn’t go so well but his wave was very successful and I’m still here so I’m happy.

You had another near-death thang at Teahupoo, yeah? Um, to be honest, I must put down that experience a little bit after this one. I don’t think it was that bad…

But only with the benefit of hindsight… Yeah, I think this one was way more serious. People say I was unconscious at Teahupoo, and I wasn’t at all, I told everyone I wasn’t, but a lot of people claim that I was unconscious and it was a lie. But this time… I was unconscious.

Big-wave wrangling is an extraordinary biz… You know, it’s a risk when you’re willing to surf waves like that and you don’t have two people to rescue you, you only have one. I was by myself on 70, 80-foot waves for over 10 minutes. And it’s very very hard to survive with no life jacket.

I was going to ask if this had affected your desire to stomp big waves. But y’sound so breezy it ain’t even a question is it…  Nooo! I’m really bummed I have a broken foot and I’m out for two months! But it was a great experience. We had the lineup to ourselves and Garrett, who’s a hero to me, (France’s) Eric Rebiere, (Briton) Andrew Cotton, it was a really good vibe. Everyone was looking out for one another and that’s what big-wave surfing is all about. We were like kids out there. We were so stoked to get out there and see the waves that big and… you know… go out and have the opportunity to do something special.

  • Andy

    sounds like this chick has a death wish. best to stay on the send next time sweetie xoxo

  • TH

    “Massive” some’s all this up in one word…

  • Matt

    Let not forget that Anastasia Ashley is also a ‘charger’ but the only thing she does is walk around in a thong. There is hope for you Maya if you wanna stay in the surf industry and if you don’t wanna put peoples lives in danger. Just put pics of your ass on Instagram. It’s worked for two girls in the industry that do not necessarily contribute anything else to pushing the sport performance wise… Just looking on the bright side of things

    • KOBY

      WHAT DO U DO?
      U FUKN LOSER.
      HOW COULD U READ THAT INTERVIEW AND SAY THAT SHIT.
      U FUKN KOOK, GET A LIFE.

      • Matt

        Does this mean I don’t get “My Brothers Keeper” Tattoo

        • KOBY

          NO IT MEANS YOUR A LOSER AND HAVE NOTHING IN LIFE SO OF ALL THINGS TO PUT DOWN U PICK ON GIRLS ON A COMPUTER..

          • Rattone

            well put, Matt you are definitely a fucking idiot, keep your dumb fuck comments like this to yourself

        • RP

          Matt, why don’t you post your e-mail address since you are so brave. I’m sure some of the readers here would like to meet up with you.

      • wonkah

        I AGREE WITH KOBY, WHAT ABOUT U GUYZ
        FUCK SHIT BALLZ

        • Matt

          I believe you do not have an opinion

          • Sam Nicholson

            At least when all your other options dry up as they inevitably will, you could get a job as a radio shock jock or some other misogynist peice of shit…. Just looking on the bright side of things.

      • Ozilian

        Long time, no talk, Kobs. Can’t give you my real name here, but great to see that you’re still a straight shooter.

      • Brenno

        Thanks Koby, It’s great to see such an aussie charger like you acknowledging Maya’s and Carlos efforts. I wish more of your countrymen would put the hate to the side and see things with less judgement. Respect.

    • jmaccers

      we don’t need more girls in the industry making a fool of themselves, like Anastasia and Alana do. let Maya do her thing! she charges. At least she is not an industry leach and actually surfs! for the love of it too!

      • RP

        Anastasia and Alana make more money than you I’m sure, and enjoy what they do. How’s your life? So fulfilling that you put down girls? Define “industry leach”? That is someone that takes without giving back. Both girls mentioned are paid by their sponsors as athletic endorsements, how are they unjustly taking from anything? All of this shit is not hard to figure out.

        • jmaccers

          Yes, Anastasia and Alana are paid by their sponsors as athletic endorsement, but showcase little of their surfing/ athletic ability. Yes, Alana is on the world tour but that is not where she gets most of her media/public attention. My comment was not a personal attack on either of them, I was just pointing out that by doing what they do, they have changed the publics’ expectations of female professional surfers. The ‘followers’ of the surfing world have an overtly sexist view of professional surfing, which is showcased by commenters such as Matt and many others commenting on this site. The view is not get the fuck out the workplace and into the kitchen, but a slightly different, and arguably more damaging, view: get the fuck out the surf and into the bikini shoot.

          • loves2surf

            Surfing makes girls and women more beautiful. Maya, Anastasia and Alana are all good representatives of that fact. Get over it and enjoy the beauty of the beach.

        • heyhey

          i’m sorry ‘jmaccers’ put down your wank shrine, could be quite personal

  • Steve Dave

    I feel that she should get the basics of surfing down before going into surf of that size. There is no denying that she charges, but I have surfed with her many times in smaller surf and she lacks basic surf skills. I believe that you need to learn to walk before you can run and she is running very fast right now, but with the help of a PWC. Just my two cents…

    • Beau Jeste

      Where do you get off on making a douchebag comment like that?

      I don’t see you out there putting it on the line…

      Are you just jealous cos she’d kick your ass?

      • Steve Dave

        I admitted above that she charges and I’m not hating. I just think she
        could benefit from learning the basics (like doing a proper bottom turn or roundhouse)
        before going out in 80ft surf. Do you not agree with the fact that she
        would be safer if she had the basics down? BTW she is a cool girl and super friendly, so this is not about hating on her.

        • Stu Azole

          in what way does a cutback at a wave like trestles come in to play towing into 80 foot waves? In truth, a lot of big wave guys suck at surfing normal waves. Just like a lot of guys who run the 100m dash probably won’t finish a marathon, they’re different skills.

      • BB

        I guess if being a “douchebag” is telling the truth, then yeah. Oh wait, let’s all be fucking politically correct and talk about how awesome she is. Get over it bro….don’t be dumb.

    • Axel Foley

      wrong or right who are we to judge her. She is following her passion and doing what she wants. I say she has fucking balls, and she is doing shit that 99.9% of the planet population would never do.
      Plus who are we to judge skills when you are talking t 80-100 foot waves (with no life jacket), she did her part and prepared as best as she could (which someway somehow saved her life).
      Stop hatting and continue clocking in and out on your 9 – 5 while she is living larger than life.

      • Joao_BJJ

        Wow. You just said everything.

      • BB

        wow, you are so smart. I bet you really write some cool stuff for the magazines.

    • BB

      Steve, good commentary. It’s amazing to me that anyone, ANYONE that has an opinion nowadays is a “hater”. What a bunch of sniveling wienies. Boo hoo, someone doesn’t worship someone else who does something with less experience…grow up a little bit and get real. Oh, if you wanna quit being a keyboard warrior and discuss this face to face for real, you can find me surfing Cardiff or Blacks in Southern CA.

      • Axel Foley

        watch out we got a bad ass over here.
        so when I get to blacks do I pin point you by your Eddie Hardy shirt, or your roxy sticker on your board ?

        • Sam Nicholson

          Logged in just to say this is hilarious!

        • BB

          well, I have an Ed Hardy wetsuit so that should be easy to spot. I have a Roxy sticker on the deck AND the bottom of my board as well as one on my Smartcar rear window. You should be able to find me without too much difficulty. I am a bad ass. Ever have your ealrlobes ripped off? It really hurts :)

    • Stu Azole

      there was nothing wrong with her surfing on that wave. She got pounded by a 70′ set. Curren, Slater etc. would have had the same issues.

    • Guest

      Your absolutely right. Its not just about charging these days. Especially when your risking the lives of anyone else who is out there and might have to make a rescue. I know Maya is chasing her dream and all that, but everyone knows that she shouldn’t have been out there. Those of you that have surfed with Maya know what i’m talking about.

      • Ozilian

        “Everyone” who? You? WTF do you know about big wave surfing?

    • surfcheck

      Don’t think a trestles bottom turn and cutback game game prepares anyone for big wave surfing. She has surfed for a long time, I’ve seen vids of her in small stuff and she surfs well. They had trained for two weeks, they didn’t just fly in and motor out. Burle thinks she was ready- who’s a better judge? She had a critical equipment failure with her life vest at the worst possible time. Anyone from Laird and Shane on down would be in the same exact spot with no vest- and she still almost made it to shore on her own.

      Yes Burle’s ski passes were sketchy, but he is on the inside of the most giant shorebreak on the planet. How many drivers could make 3 passes between 30 ft white waters?

      If her near-death wipe out means she shouldn’t be out there, then Mark Foo and Sion Mulosky shouldn’t have been out at Mavs, they blew it fatally. Shane and Greg Long almost died from hold downs. Or Todd Chesser disappearing at Himalayas. Break your leg and lose your vest, get hit by your board, bounce headfirst off the bottom, or just get held down- none of them are smarter or dumber. Don’t be chauvinistic- If Maya wants to go back out, the more power to her.

      • Ozilian

        You’re the man, surfcheck. Yes, Maya would probably be beaten by any new gen 14 y.o. in anything up to 6′. BUT WHO THE HECK CARES? I would surf better than her myself (maybe up to 8′, if I’m lucky) but I would certainly not get anywhere near the water when she’s chasing the big stuff. You could not have put the issues better. Well done. (As I final comment, I think these guys are totally nuts and that they push too hard. But they’re all adults and well trained for this. It’s their choice and they know better than us to assess what’s right and wrong in the circumstances. Good on them.)

  • KOBY

    AMAZING READ.
    THE WILL TO LIVE..

    • Guest

      Koby, mate, on the left of your keyboard there, just under the ‘Tab’ button, that’s called ‘Caps Lock’ buddy. Turn it off.

      • Ben

        For real though.

  • tunerbowl

    heavy shit….heavy fucking shit, thats sick she doesnt give a fuck though keep charging!

  • Maddy Byrne

    Gnarly! What a loose unit, good on her! I’d like to see half the boys on here attempt an 80 footer!

  • David Carvalho

    RESPECT!

  • Luca

    well, this sums up everything to all the pricks on the other post.

  • Tom Wilkinson

    just because a girl almost drowns in some big heavy ass surf, doesn’t mean she should stay on the beach many surfers have died in waves a lot smaller than that.

  • BT

    What a champ

  • poopoobrown

    Anyone got a link to her shoot from PLayboY/

  • zbah

    Is it my imagination or does her driver slam her in the head with the edge of a rock hard sled because he comes in way too hot? And then does he compound that up by blowing his second pickup too? It’s a really sketchy place on a super gnarly day and its probably politically incorrect to point out the elephant in the room but it seems like a bad situation turns critical because of bad driving. Maybe big wave surfing would be better served by discussing how even the very experienced can panic a bit and make mistakes? Nah, lets just get back to bashing women for giving it a go.

    • Luca

      he pulled right in front of her with the sled, she misses. he tries again with his hands and she misses one more time, he then throws the rope and she grabs it and he pulls her for about 5 to 10 meters and that’s when she fades and he jumps to her.

      Was a bit erratic? yes, however what you cant see by the images is that she was heading directly to the rocks, where the situation would’ve been way worst.
      i see many people saying that the cause of her passing out was actually those 5-10m hanging on the rope. They are probably right, but out of all scenarios, that’s the only one that could work.

      if went to rocks, that would be it.

      • wonkah

        “He pulled right in front of her”. No he didnt, he ran her over at high speed, It’s clear in the video. “He tried again with his hands and ‘she’ misses”. What the fuck, HE missed her, not the other way around. The guy was trying his best in this horrid sitaution and I feel terrible for them both, but Zbah is 100% right. On another day, in the same situation he probably would have been that few inches closer and grabbed her, and this article wouldn’t exist.

  • Joao_BJJ

    As Garrett McNamara says: “Follow your passion”. Shes doing her thing and doesnt give a fuck for the haters. Keep it up, Maya. We love you!

  • Seabass120

    “I kinda knew where I was because it was so salty and it was so wet” Damn that turns me on.

  • Tommie

    Maya you sexy beast, please be careful. RESPECT

  • mict2000

    Why do they even allow comment boards anymore? Its been proven that people cannot handling commenting anonymously. Every decent conversation descends into cyber tough guys and perverts spewing filth. Why can’t anyone just disagree with someone’s opinion with respect? Dudes hemmorhaging over one wave. Until you’re out there you have no say in how they responded or what they should have done. If Maya and Carlos wanna jump into volcanoes, who cares? They’re out there charging by themselves not bothering anyone while most of these readers are road raging and dropping in on each other at their local shitty spot. I’d rather die in a watery grave anyday like Maya almost did then sit around on message boards ripping on each other calling people out to fight. Maya and Carlos are LIVING. God Bless them. Charge it ladies and gentlemen! Follow the dream.
    Mike Thompson 1400 Crest Ct Oxnard, CA 93035 Silverstrand Beach Oxnard Av generally.

    • RP

      Well said.

  • Shawn

    Maya is drunk on a combination of stardom, sponsorship, peer pressure, ignorance of youth, and money. In the surf world, reputation is everything. Everyone is pushing each other deeper and deeper into the fatal zone. If you do what is “safe”, you will not make news, nor garner sponsorship. Life is the biggest and greatest thing you will ever achieve in this existence. Love, and self realization (enlightenment) are the only things worth sacrificing this precious gift for (as in standing up for what you love included). Maya does not appear to have her head in a very masterful place; neither surf wise nor intelligence. She looks like she is in wayyy over her head; kind of a crazy kid, just going for it. That’s great, but not when you put your life on the line over and over. It’s insanity. Her wave skills and judgement at chopo leave me cringing. I write this not as an armchair warrior, but as a north shore surfer, in my early forties, hoping that she and others will read it and reconsider the value of their lives, not to mention the roles they play in their own family and children’s lives. This is coming from someone who has towed in to big waves but has no interest in extreme life threatening conditions. Everything you seek is WITHIN! By just sitting still and going within you will encounter OCEANS of rapture and bliss beyond all concept and imagination!
    Far more than you can ever achieve with another “adrenaline rush”. You have the ability to free yourself and go beyond the limitations of your mind with simple awareness and stillness. Go out and enjoy surfing, but don’t be a kook and throw your precious life away.

  • Grant Twig Baker

    It’s up to each individual to realize the limits of their ability and it’s very important to be honest with yourself about your capabilities when the conditions get serious. I personally choose not to surf massive Chopes because I don’t feel I’m a good enough surfer in lefts of that caliber and I would be putting myself and others in danger, as well as taking waves from more competent surfers. But in the end if someone chooses to go out and test their limits who are we to judge and whatever is said about that wave, it’s one fucking big beach break!

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