Brazilian surfer Maya Gabeira officially holds the world record for the tallest wave ever surfed by a woman after riding one 68 feet high at a competition in Nazaré, Portugal on Jan. 18, 2018. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the 31 year-old also claimed the World Surf League’s inaugural Women’s XXL Biggest Wave Award. She received both of her titles on Monday.
“To set the world record has been a dream of mine for many years,” she said. “But of course, after the accident in Nazaré 2013, it felt like a very distant dream.”
Five years ago, the last time Gabeira took on the famously large waves in Narzaré, she almost died. According to The New York Times, the surfer fell off her surfboard, broke her ankle and was floating face down when her friend found her. But instead of running from her fears after the accident, Gabeira moved to the surf town to get more practice with the life-threatening — or in her words “biggest and most challenging” — waves.
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“It took a lot of work to have a season like last year, to be 100 percent again, and to complete it with a Guinness World Records title is quite special,” she continued, adding to the Times, “I respect the place a lot. I know of the danger there.”
Another major victory for Gabeira in 2018 was her successful battle for the creation of separate women’s categories for riding the world’s biggest waves. This is the first year the WSL and Guinness Book of World Records have awarded them. In the past, the gender-neutral title was always won by men.
After surfing the 68-footer in January, Gabeira started a Change.org petition to raise awareness that her feat should be recognized. “I dream now of some other little girl who might read the book, and see my name, and then one day find her own big waves to ride,” she wrote. Experts then judged her wave against records going back more than 20 years, and she came out on top — literally.
“It’s important to widen our possibilities,” she told the outlet. “Where the space for women doesn’t yet exist, it must be created.”