The world's most dramatic score aside, you'll see Carlos' wave right at the end. Video by SURFPortugal and Hélio Valentim.
That Time Carlos Burle Saved Maya Gabeira's Life, Surfed Biggest Wave Ever
“She told me that she knew that she was dying and that she felt happy."
Carlos Burle rode one of the biggest wave ever. And, he he did it after saving Maya Gabeira's life. The two Brazilians were surfing Portuguese ridiculously-big wave spot Nazaré, when Maya failed to negotiate a bump, snapped her ankle and went under. Fast forward five minutes and Carlos plucked her from the water, were she was floating face down. She was revived on the beach.
Once Carlos was sure Maya was making a recovery, he jetted back into the lineup. He rode the last wave of the day, and it was perhaps the biggest chunk of moving water ever surfed. Stab illuminated his phone as he was walking out of the hospital, having visited Maya. Carlos speaks good English. Obvs it's his second language, but his English style helps tell a more dramatic story…
Interview by Craig Jarvis
Stab: Stopped shaking, Carlos?
Carlos: I’m good. Maya is good too. That’s the most important thing. It was a crazy day. I nearly lost my friend, Maya. It was terrible. I don’t think I've been so scared in my whole life. She has a broken ankle but she's alive.
What happened? I towed her into this wave and it was so big man. She hit this bump but she managed to ramp over it, and then she hit a second bump and ramped it as well, but when she hit the third bump she didn’t manage to jump it and just slammed into it. She broke her ankle then and there. Then she got caught inside by a giant wave and she disappeared.
Woah. Man, she was gone for about five minutes. I couldn’t find her anywhere. I was so scared. I didn’t want to lose my friend, you know? Then I saw her and raced towards her. There were these huge waves just breaking on us and over us, and she missed the sled. She was weak and she couldn’t grab on and we were getting pounded. I wanted to her to get the rope, or the sled. She couldn’t manage. Then she disappeared again.
No! I lost her man. I couldn’t find her. It was the worst situation I have ever been in. We were on the left side, heading for the shorebreak and it was so big, the biggest shorebreak you have ever seen in your life. Then I saw her again but this time she was floating face down. She was heading for the rocks. It was terrible. The worst situation I have ever faced. I raced up to her, jumped off the ski and grabbed her. I couldn’t let her go.
What did you do? I grabbed her in this position I learned from the lifeguards in Hawaii. Got her from behind and put her in an armlock, keeping her head out of the water. We went through the Nazare shorebreak like that.
You left the ski? Yes. I wasn’t worried about the ski at that stage.
Did it just wash you in? It was so strong. The waves were so big and it was a shorebreak. We got slammed. So scary. We got lucky. I got lucky. We got to the beach. I don’t know how, but we made it to the beach. They started administering CPR immediately, and she coughed up a bucket load of water and she started breathing. Then they took her away in the ambulance. I was shaking. I’m not the best guy in these situations you know. I know the ocean, but I wasn’t expecting this. I was in shock and so totally scared.
You also caught the biggest wave of the day, maybe the biggest wave ever caught in the history of surfing. The tractor got my ski out, and we went back to the harbour, and everyone was telling us that it was so bad now, that the wind was on and that there were huge currents ripping through it, but I knew that there would be a window. I knew that the wind would drop and a chance would come. I was with Pedro Scooby and I wanted to get a few waves as well. I told him to wait, that something was going to happen. It did. It was a mix of good timing, fate and all that stuff together. I caught the last wave of the day.
How many waves did you catch? Just the one! It was the only wave I got.
It was a monster. How did it feel? It went on forever. I didn’t just race for the shoulder you know, I wanted to surf the wave properly. I didn’t go left because that goes to the shorebreak and I was finished with the shorebreak for the day, so I went right. I surfed the wave, and it broke. Some of the really big ones on that side of the canyon don’t break.
They don’t count. No, they don’t count. If they don’t break they’re not waves, they’re swells. This wave broke. It eventually caught me, and I lost my board and had to swim to the channel. I got picked up by Garrett.
Did it feel like The Big One? Yes. There was so much room to move on the wave. So much space above me and below me.
It might have been the biggest wave ever ridden! Have you seen the vision? Yes. If you do that test, when you get a whole bunch of surfers stacked one on top of another, it looks like it might be one of the biggest ever. I don’t want to be the one who calls it. It’s hard to tell. Someone else can tell me how big it was (laughs).
Think it might have been 100 foot? I don’t know - it’s not impossible. There was a lot of space on that wave. I don’t know how big it was. It was bigger than Garrett’s wave last year; that we can see clearly. Whatever the case or the size I am just very lucky, I’m happy to have been in the spot at the time. We have Garrett to thank. He introduced the big wave world to Nazare. He’s happy to share his knowledge as well, which is great. Garrett’s the man.
Did it get weird out there? At one stage there was a bit of shouting and screaming. Everyone was so excited you know, and I was just shouting back at them, telling them that it’s just another big day, that everyone had to stay focused. Eventually everyone settled down.
Maybe you surfed the biggest wave, like, ever! This is a big deal! What does that do to you? I’m not going to change man. I’m just going to carry on with my life and do the things that make me happy. I tell you what made me happy was talking and laughing with Maya in the hospital. She told me that she knew that she was dying and that she felt happy. That she was dying happy. I told her that she might have been happy, but I was way more happy that she didn’t die. She is my friend. She trains hard and she's passionate. I would have been very depressed if she had died. She was laughing and she was crying in the hospital. It’s been a very emotional day for everyone. I must say that all the boys in the water did well. There were a bunch of guys with Maya, like Sylvio Mancusi, Rodrigo Koxa, Felipe "Gordo" Cesarano, Hugo Vau, Eric Rebiere, Pedro Scooby, Andrew Cotton and Garrett Macnamara. All legends.
Well done on surviving the day. What a day! Records! Drama! Survival! Yeah. We’re alive.