The Inertia Senior Editor

Laird Hamilton has never been one to mince words. In an interview with CNN about the recent mega-swell at Nazare’s North Canyon that almost took Maya Gabeira’s life and potentially set a new world record for biggest wave ever surfed, he said a few things that are bound to stir the surf world’s pot.

“The whole thing about making the wave is first, to catch it,” he said about Carlos Burle’s possible record breaking ride. “Then after you catch it, you want to finish the ride by riding into the safe spot… if you get hit by the wave after you’ve been riding it – that’s a failed attempt in the school that I went to.”

The problem here is that he’s probably right, by normal big-wave standards. But Portugal’s most famous big-wave spot is a little different than most: it’s not a top-to-bottom breaking wave. It’s too big and too deep for that. It’s more akin to riding a snowboard than a wave. “If he’s claiming he rode the biggest wave ever ridden,” Laird continued, “I’d say maybe he wiped out on the biggest wave ever ridden.” But the fact remains that Carlos Burle rode an incredibly big wave. Yes, it overtook him. But, from the looks of that wave, it wasn’t physically possible for anyone to outrun a wave like that.

Hamilton also laid most of the blame on Gabeira’s near-death experience there on Burle. “I feel like it’s Carlos’ responsibility to take care of her,” he said in the interview. “He’s just lucky that she didn’t drown.” Carlos isn’t lucky that Maya didn’t drown, Laird. Maya is lucky that Maya didn’t drown. And Maya didn’t drown because Carlos saved her life that day. Maya is a grown woman who can make her own decisions, not some weak-willed child who needs anyone’s permission to do what she wants, no matter how crazy it is.

“Maya doesn’t have the skill to be in these conditions,” said Laird. “She should not be in this kind of surf.” Maya’s skill shouldn’t be called into question here. No one should be in this kind of surf; not Maya, not Carlos, not Laird. It’s not fit for human consumption, and no matter what gender you are, things are going to go wrong in situations as heavy as this one was. It’s not a matter of skill. It’s a matter of time.

  • Women&Waves

    She may not have enough skill, but she attempted the impossible, and she should be appreciated for what she did, instead of analyzed to death.

  • “Maya’s skill shouldn’t be called into question here….. ” Perfect. Well said.

    • neil

      Just out of interest – why should her skill not be called into question? Seems like a natural question to me. One that I would be asking myself if I was her. I think if you surf big waves like this you must always be questioning where does my limit lie – its a permanent judgement call whether to go out or not and sometimes we maybe get it wrong. I have no idea if she got it wrong that day or just got unlucky. But the last thing we must do is present the idea that all is justified by courage. One day the conditions will be too big for everyone and on that day all must question their ability. Learning that lesson is key for all surfers of all ability. Laird may be right or he may be wrong in his opinion but at least he isn’t pushing the issue under the carpet for whatever reason – its an important discussion as more people venture into the water and PWCs make it easier than ever.

      • Laird is not the first person to question her ability. The internet is aflutter with people questioning her ability. Quite simply it’s a sexist question. No one questioned Mike Parson’s ability when he broke his next in San Francisco last year. There have been numerous deaths in big wave surfing, and generally the sentiment is that big wave surfing is a risky sport and it usually stops there. The fact that Maya is female seems to have made everyone uncomfortable. She is accomplished in her sport. She was surrounded by peers who respect her and trust her ability. I don’t believe that anyone would tow a surfer out who was less than capable.

        This is what Garrett McNamara had to say about her: “Maya Gabeira
        is the toughest water woman I have ever witnessed. She also caught one
        of the biggest waves of the day. She took the hardest beating I have
        ever seen by man or woman anywhere in the ocean and made it close to the
        shore all on her own. What happened after was terrible. It just shows
        how strong she is and how hard she trained by how well she is doing after going through what happened to her!! Thankfully she will be home from the hospital today.”

        • neil

          No doubt there are people out there for whom this is a gender issue. Maybe it is for Laird – I frankly can only guess to his inner thoughts.

          However to ask the question ‘did she have the ability to be out there’ is fundamentaly not a gender issue. To not ask the obvious question becasue she is a woman is however sexist. Anytime there is an accident its worth asking why it happened – we will never get the right answers if the question is tabu. I wasn’t there and have no idea what happened – I’ve only seen the video like most others. From what I’ve seen, there are a lot of pressing questions about the rescue for example that would be useful to be shared – she was clearly concious before she grabbed the rope and not afterwards – yet its another question it seems like we can’t ask in case we question Carlos hero status.

          An honest and open discussion seems pretty reaosnable in the interest of learning from what happned.

          • Absolutely. For the sake of the sport and the safety of the athletes there needs to be scrutiny. Question what needs to be questioned. It just perhaps says something about our psyches when the knee jerk reaction is to assume she shouldn’t be out there, when that isn’t the case with her male counterparts. Questions are good. Questioning are questions is good too 🙂

        • neil

          I think its also worth remembering after the Greg Long incident a lot of people questioned GMacs ability to be in those conditions – again rightly or wrongly. For sure less people questioned Gregs presence in that line up (except himself) – but clearly the reason then was not a gender issue.

        • chezza

          Comparing Maya and Mike Parson ability is just so ignorant. Mike Parsons was a professional competitive surfer. He was one of the best surfers in the world and then transitioned into big wave surfing. Maya didn’t even know how to surf before surfing big waves. There is nothing sexist at all about questioning her ability.

          • Stu Azole

            yet he almost died surfing waves way smaller than Maya’s. So what’s that all about?

        • Steve Dave

          Mike Parsons knows how to surf well. Maya does not. Bad comparison.

  • Ross_C

    Why “no one” in this kind of surf? Laird’s definitely put the time in. Plus that wave doesn’t look like it breaks that hard to me. Shipsterns, Jaws, Mavericks look waaaaay more dangerous in my opinion. That wave just kind crumples over itself. Then it’s a bunch of whitewater.

    Maya should’ve never been out there.

    Laird pretty much has the authority on this subject.

    • LG

      You must be kidding. If Laird has the authority, why he did not go there? It is so
      impressive how international surfing asshole community (I mean everyone but Brazilians) criticize so much Brazilian surfers? If a Brazilian win an ASP contest, because it was small, if ride a big wave it was a crap. This is becoming pathetic (better, it is pathetic).

      • Joe M

        I think it’s impressive that you believe everyone in the surf community are a-holes except for Brazilians.

      • s4p

        I’m sure Laird would surf those waves fine. Too… Carlos Burle is one radical surfer. Laird does have a point, but rest easy my friend. Carlos has the ability to match or even beat that wave if the conditions set up for him.
        As far as non-US/non-Aus surfers getting the shaft… sadly, that’s the way it goes. Surf media/apparel meccas are located in those two countries so go figure… Take a look too at the “image” of surfing… That image rarely addresses surfers away from those geographic regions…

    • s4p

      She may not have been at her best… But sometimes you don’t know until you give it a go. Often the difference between making it and not is so small so as to be infinitesimal and yet that one tweak is all it takes to ruin a ride.

      If Maya decides to continue, she will have had that extra amount of experience to adjust going forth… At any rate it’s her life…

      Laird may not be completely wrong here but progress only comes when you push your own limits. He should know that pretty well… It’s a shame he came across as patronizing…

  • George

    Alex, do you know more about surfing then Laird? If you do then this article makes sense, otherwise why are you questioning is opinion?

    • BK

      ** “THAN Laird” & “HIS opinion.” George, if you don’t know more than Alex about editorial, should you be commenting on his article? The answer is yes, you should and so should Mr. Haro.

  • neil

    “No one should be in this kind of surf”

    This logic doesn’t hold up – it could be used to justify anyone or no-one being in the water. The plain facts are that some people are infintiely more prepared and experienced than some others in this situation. To belittle that experiennce and preparation simply becasue you can’t imagine yourself in that situation is wrong. There is clearly a place for big waving surfing in the heart of many people and if you are going to do that, then be prepared and get the right training and experience.

    Maya may well have had the right experience and preparation to be out there – but lets not pretend its an easy call to make or one that we always get right. Just because she had an accident doesn’t suddenly mean that we must not question whether she got it right on the day or fail to learn whatever lessons there may be to learn.

    After Greg Longs accident that day at Cortez I seem to remember him saying that questioning whether he should have been out there was definitely on his mind.

  • piskian

    All surfers are women.Get over it.

  • VoiceofReason14

    We’re all huge fans of Laird- he is the godfather. But, I think Maya’s been surfing big waves for a while besides being a world class surfer- a lot can go wrong. Carlos did take responsibility for his friend and she’s okay. At this point I’d like to hear from people like Shane Dorian, Ian Walsh, Greg Long, Nathan Fletcher on stuff like this. You kinda get an idea where everyone stands currently by keeping up with it and watch The Big Wave Roundtable Series.

    • Joe M

      Personally, I’d like Dave Wassel to chime in with video commentary while holding a knife.

      • SamHill

        This comment made my day

    • Julianus claudius

      I’m not a huge fan of Laird. I’m not a fan at all. He is a very good surfer, and windsurfer (I knew who he is with windsurfing, actually), but he brought jet skis in the line up, which sucks, then he brought SUP in the line up, wich double sucks, and I am really afraid of what he is gonna bring next time…
      And I don’t like his attitude, and plenty other things. So, no, we’re not all huge fans of Laird, at least one guy on this earth don’t give a single turd about Laird Hamilton. And I don’t like his sun tan.

    • chezza

      Maya is not a world class surfer. You can easily figure this out by a review of her surfing on youtube. She has big big balls and charges huge surf but she can barely do a cutback on a head high wave. That is what Laird means and that is what Kelly Slater meant when he said she shouldn’t be out at Teahupoo.

      • Stu Azole

        Usain Bolt can whip anyone in a sprint, but when’s the last time you saw him win a marathon? She doesn’t need cutbacks to surf bigger waves. She showed there here – made the wave even after her ankle snapped. In truth, many solid big wave guys suck in small surf. That’s just fact.

        • chezza

          False comparison. Lives are not on the line in running. To surf big waves WELL (that doesn’t just mean the actual act of riding, it means judgement, wave knowledge, etc) I’m not saying she needs to be able to do airs to surf big waves, I was using the cut back as an example for people that wouldn’t understand the nuance. You do need a small/smaller wave foundation. That is the whole point of what both Laird and Kelly Slater are saying. Tow surfing has allowed people without adequate skill to access something that they otherwise wouldn’t be able. I have heard that in the last couple years she has been paddling huge Puerto so she is probably getting there. However, to use your running analogy, it appears that she has been trying to run marathons before she even learned to walk. Nazare was not an isolated incident for Maya.

          • Stu Azole

            Doesn’t matter. I know a lot of small wave clowns who charge when it’s big. Again, you’re overlooking the fact that she surfed her wave well, even with a snapped ankle. Cutback skills mean nothing when you’re taking 70 footers on the head. Any of the men would have suffered a similar fate caught inside like that.

    • chezza

      Additionally we are NOT all fans of Laird. He brought commercialization, jet skis, and general kookiness to surfing. He is partly to blame for crowded lineups. Most real surfers think Laid is a joke quite frankly. So between your last comment and that one it is clear you don’t know what you are talking about.

  • Joe M

    Mr. Haro. I think that Laird was referring to Carlos’ experience in big waves vs. Maya’s relative lack of experience. It makes sense to me that in a sport with few experts the veterans should be responsible for looking out for the rookies.

    Also, I don’t see where Laird says anything to contradict Carlos having ridden an incredibly big wave. He just pointed out a few truths. A) Carlos didn’t ride out of this wave. B) As surfers know, height is not really the only measurement of a waves size and power.

    Don’t mess with the Laird. 😉

  • Joe M

    Very true. I know a guy who did that as well… same person?

  • senseless spines

    Branding wars.

    That is all this is.
    All these trust funded wanna be surfers ‘makin claims’ never worked in real life.

    I get up at 5 am to surf before losers like Laird, Maya, Burle, Slater and what ever other wanker is in REM while resting their laurels on the victims who consume their branding.

    When the f did one of these mega stars git up at 5am, to surf so they could work a real day doing things real people need – why did I waste my time here – go prove yourself and die doing what you love so I can be entertained – that is all you “brand name naggers” are worth.

  • Dandaman

    Hey have you heard?! Laird’s joined The Village People! He’s getting a special spot in the show. A naked paddle spanking routine with the boys while they perform “Macho Man”

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