When Maya Gabeira was a teenager, she left her home in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to pursue her dream: surfing. And more specifically, surfing on big waves.
A handful of years later, Gabeira has achieved many of her surfing goals, including multiple Guinness World Records and WSL Big Wave Awards. She also helped pioneer one of the greatest large-scale discoveries of all time, Nazaré. That’s where she lives today, and where she continues to push the boundaries of bickering on big waves.
But her last attempt was not in the water. Instead, she wrote a children’s book – titled Maya and the Beast – aimed at inspiring young people (especially young girls) to follow their dreams. So we called her in Nazaré to talk about it.
Turns out Gabeira has no experience as a writer per se, but she does have it in her blood.
“My father is a journalist and writer,” said Gabeira. “He has published 14 books. I’m a surfer, which isn’t his thing at all, but he inspired me. Other than that, I was absolutely not passionate about writing, nor had I studied it or anything like that. It was more of an instinctive experience. And it helped that I told a story that I knew, because it was my story. And I wanted to share that with the world.”
There’s a famous quote, often attributed to Mark Twain, that goes something like this: “Write what you know.” And for Gabeira, that was to write about her own experience as a woman emerging in the mostly male-dominated big-wave world. That, and her tumultuous love affair surfing Nazaré.
“Maya in the book was born in Nazaré, which I clearly wasn’t,” she said. “For me I told it because I feel like I have a kind of second life here [in Nazaré]. I am reborn here. But a lot of it really relates to my real life – like how I was introduced to surfing, how it was such a boy sport, how to find ways to learn to surf. I was very afraid of the ocean growing up; I had asthma, that has always been something for me. So there was a lot to overcome as a young teenager, just like Maya in the book.”
Speaking of Nazaré, the book is set there and Gabeira has an interesting relationship with the city and its infamous wave. Here she broke not one, but two Guinness World Records for the largest wave ever surfed by a woman. It’s also where she nearly drowned in 2013.
“Now, my relationship [with Nazaré] is good,” she said. “But we’ve had some bad moments in the past, tragic moments. When I first came here I fell completely in love with the wave and the potential. After I had the accident, when I came back, I was very intimidated. I really wanted to get over my fear, but I wasn’t in a comfortable headroom. It wasn’t as much fun as before, because I knew the danger first hand. I wasn’t trying to prove to anyone else that I could do it, that I was meant to be there; I was proving it to myself. It took me a long time to turn that relationship into what it is today. Now I have great memories on top of those terrible ones. It’s a very happy place for me.”
Like Maya in the book, the real Maya Gabeira struggles with asthma…yes, not the ideal condition for someone whose career is long-winded. But like the classic superhero trope, she’s found a way to see her weakness as a strength.
“I have to train a lot harder with things like holding my breath in the pool,” she said. “It’s something I’ve always had to deal with. In some ways it’s a weakness, but I’m trying to look at it in a different way. It can be a force. I already know what it feels like to be out of breath. While it’s terrifying, it’s something I’m used to. So in a way that can be a force in big waves.”
Asked about the progress of women’s surfing on the big waves – something where she is one of the few women currently in charge – Gabeira is proud of the progress that has been made, but also notes that there is much more to be done. done.
“Things are starting to change,” she says. “The WSL is committed to making the women feel welcome in a space that is predominantly male dominated – we have the same prize pool, the same competitions, the same prizes. But it all feels a bit loose. Hopefully it gets a little tighter on the competitive side. It is still very new and we need to make it more professional.”
And she hopes her book, Maya and the Beastwill show the next generation of female big-wave surfers that they too can earn their place in the lineup and conquer their fears.
“I want the book to inspire young girls to get out there, explore, believe in yourself. There are so many obstacles that will come your way, but you cannot give up. Never give up.”
Click here for more information (and order your copy of) Maya and the Beast.