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.


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