Big Wave Madam Maya Gabeira wins an Espy. What’s that? Apparently it’s quite a big deal actually…
By Rory Aaberg
Maya Gabeira tows Teahupo’o. Waves an eighth of that size would make the average human die of fear. At the very least, shit themselves. She flies out of foamy, mutant barrels. She’s seen things most people witness only seconds before death. And now an ESPY award (which stands for Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly) is part of her remarkable list of accomplishments. But don’t expect it to end there. Maya will continue chasing swells, surfing bigger waves, and making most male surfers look like inadequate kooks. Shortly after achieving one of the biggest awards an athlete can aspire to achieve, Maya took the time to talk to us.
SURFING MAGAZINE: WHEN DID YOU FIND OUT YOU WERE NOMINATED FOR AN ESPY AND HOW DID YOU REACT?
Maya Gabeira: I was training at the gym in Rio, and got and e-mail from Red Bull USA telling me I was nominated. I was very surprised but super stoked!
WHAT IS A BIGGER ACHIEVEMENT, WINNING AT THE XXL AWARDS — WHERE THE WINNERS ARE DETERMINED BY A GROUP OF JUDGES WHO ARE VERY INFORMED ABOUT BIG WAVE SURFING — OR AT THE ESPYS, WHICH ARE BETTER KNOWN BUT ARE DETERMINED BY FANS?
It’s too different feelings. In this case the XXL Awards led me into an ESPY. And in the ESPYs, you’re going up against all female action sports athletes. That’s a lot of incredible women.
WHAT OTHER SURFERS WERE NOMINATED WITH YOU?
Kelly Slater was nominated for best male action sports athlete!
DID YOU HAVE A CHANCE TO HANG WITH ANY OTHER ATHLETES OR STARS?
I met Torah Bright and Ashley Fiolek. They were sitting next to me in the theater and were very nice and supportive! And I only passed by Kobe Bryant, Venus and Serena Williams, and Michael Phelps.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE BEING AROUND ALL THESE HIGH PROFILE ATHLETES AND CELEBRITIES?
I felt like a fish out of water. But it was a cool, very unique experience.
HOW DID SOMEONE WHO’S FROM BRAZIL — A PLACE KNOWN FOR SMALL BEACH BREAKS — BECOME SO ADEPT AT CHARGING SCARY WAVES?
I moved to Hawaii when I was 17 years old, and that’s when I found my passion for big waves. Since then, I’ve never stopped chasing big waves and training hard to surf them.
IF YOU COULD CHOSE BETWEEN THE TWO, WOULD YOU RATHER BE WORLD CHAMPION, OR ENJOY A SUCCESSFUL CAREER AS A BIG WAVE SURFER?
I admire the world champions. It’s an incredible achievement. But my personal passion is definitely big waves. That’s why I chose it so early. To have a successful big wave career would be most fulfilling.
WHAT IS THE MOST HORRIFYING SITUATION YOU HAVE BEEN IN WHILE SURFING BIG WAVES?
There have been so many intense moments they are uncountable by now. But last year my Jet Ski fell over my head while my tow partner Carlos Burle was still on it. That was definitely a very scary and dangerous moment.
WHO DO YOU THINK ARE THE TOP FEMALE BIG WAVE RIDERS, BESIDE YOURSELF?
Jamilah Star, Keala Kennelly, Layne Beachley, and Rochelle Ballard.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE FOR YOU TO ACCOMPLISH NOW THAT YOU HAVE BOTH AN ESPY AND A BILLABONG XXL TROPHY TO YOUR CREDIT?
Oh, so much! My goals were never trophies or awards. It has always being about performance and size, so there is a lot to improve. I want to be a better tow surfer and be able to paddle into big waves around the world with the same confidence I have at Waimea. The list goes on. I want to surf every place at every size, both towing and paddling in. I have set a lot of different goals for myself. It’s still only the beginning. There is so much to learn and experience in the ocean!