In 2018, Maya Gabeira set a World Record for the largest wave a female surfer had ever ridden. This year, she not only bested her previous record, but she also topped the entire field of surfers for the 2019-2020 big wave season. On Thursday, the WSL announced the 73.5-foot wave she rode at Nazaré on February 11, 2020 is officially a new Guinness World Record as well as this year’s 2020 cbdMD XXL Biggest Wave Award winner.
“This wave was during the [WSL Nazaré Tow Surfing] contest and although I say I’m not a competitive person, I was very in the zone and braver than I usually am on this day,” said Gabeira. “I was risking more than I usually like to do. When I let go of the rope, I had a feeling it could be the one but wasn’t sure. The speed was very high but the noise that the wave made when it broke made me realize that this was probably the biggest wave I’d ever ridden.”
With the men and women separated into different divisions for the biggest wave category, Gabeira’s wave, which was also bigger than Kai Lenny’s which won for the men, is an obviously significant moment for the sport. In the past few years, professional surfing has seen an equal pay effort by the WSL, which has also given women a platform to compete in their own events.
“That to me was something I had dreamed of years ago but not as something realistic,” Gabeira said of owning a new world record along with standing alone as the largest wave in all of surfing for the year. “There was no representation for me to believe that it was possible but to see that happen is incredible. This is seen as an extremely male-dominated sport, so to have a woman be able to represent that is quite rare.”
While Gabeira’s February 11 ride was judged the biggest of the year, the runner up nomination was actually awarded the Ride of the Year. On the same day, Justine Dupont towed into a 70-foot wave at Nazaré that was under strong consideration for the world record designation as well. Knowing either wave could be a potential Guinness World Record, the WSL actually submitted footage and images to an independent team of analysts, including scientists from the WaveCo Science team, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and the University of Southern California, Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering. An official report was published on Thursday detailing just how in-depth calculating wave heights and world record waves can be. Everything from a surfer’s crouch height to the exact dimensions of the ski that tows them into a wave and even considerations of the day’s lighting conditions are factored into getting as precise a measurement as possible.