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Athletes & Explorers

Oct 08, 2018

Maya Gabeira: The First Female Big Wave Surfer Recognized with the World Record

This Brazilian surfer has just become the first female surfer to be recognized by Guinness World Records for a biggest wave surfed

WRITTEN BY

Brooke Hess

On January 18th, 2018, Maya Gabeira successfully rode a 68-foot tall wave in Nazaré, Portugal.

The height of the wave was confirmed by The Portuguese Surfing Federation´s Technical Director, Miguel Moreira, “This is the female record. There is no doubt about it.”

Gabeira grew up in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where she started surfing at age 14. At age 17, she moved to Hawaii to pursue her passion for surfing. Supporting herself with two different waitressing jobs, she still managed to find enough time to train, and on February 6th, 2006, rode her first big wave. A 35-foot tall wave at Waimea Bay, on the North Shore of Oahu, marked the beginning of many big waves that Gabeira would surf.

Maya Gabeira, The Discovery of Nazare

A wipeout broke her ankle, herniated discs, ripped off her lifevest, and left her face-down, unconscious in the water.

Gabeira has surfed waves all around the globe, including Indonesia, Australia, South Africa, Northern California, and Tahiti. Her mentor, Carlos Burle, also of Brazil, introduced her to tow-in surfing, which has given her the means necessary to surf some of the world’s largest waves. Gabeira is a 5-time World Surf League Big Wave Awards winner, as well as the winner of the 2009 ESPY Best Female Action Sports Athlete Award.

In 2013, Gabeira had a near-death experience while surfing big waves in Nazaré, the same place she set the world record. A wipeout broke her ankle, herniated discs, ripped off her lifevest, and left her face-down, unconscious in the water. She was rescued and resuscitated on the beach.

Despite this brush with death, five years after her crash, the Brazilian surfer completed her comeback. On January 18th, 2018, Gabeira realized her goal of surfing the world record largest wave when she successfully towed onto and rode a 68-foot tall beast.

Gabeira knew this wave was a women’s world record, but she wasn’t receiving recognition for it. The World Surf League and Guinness World Records has previously only recognized and awarded the big wave world record to men. Gabeira was fighting for a women’s category as well. “It is essential to have a separate record,” Gabiera told The New York Times.

“Women have to fight to get their space where it’s supposedly just a man’s world”

In order to gain recognition as a world record, the World Surf League must first approve. Gabeira attempted contacting the organization, but received no response. She traveled to their office in Los Angeles and spoke with them directly. For several months her request was ignored. She eventually took matters into her own hands by enlisting the help of her fans and followers on social media.
The following is a quote from a video she posted to Facebook, asking for help with a petition to the WSL for a separate female world record category.

“Hello, I’m Maya Gabeira. I’m a big wave surfer from Rio de Janeiro and I need your help. On January 18, 2018 I achieved my life’s goal of surfing the biggest wave a woman has ever surfed.
In order to establish a world record, I need the World Surf League to certify the measurement of the wave. For some reason, the WSL has ignored my request. Please sign this petition to ask the WSL
to recognize a world record for women in big wave surfing!”

Link to Maya’s petition: https://www.change.org/p/world-surf-league-a-world-record-for-women-in-big-wave-surfing

The petition received more than 18,000 signatures, and caught the eye of the WSL.

On October 1st, 2018, Gabeira won her fight and was awarded the Guinness World Record.

 “Women have to fight to get their space where it’s supposedly just a man’s world. So, if you scream loud enough then you get heard. And that’s what happened.” Maya Gabeira explained to Public Radio International.

Cover Photo: Maya Gabeira performs during a big wave surfing session at Praia do Norte in Nazare, Portugal on October 21, 2017. Photo: Redbull.

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Athletes & Explorers

Dec 05, 2018

Stephanie Gilmore’s 7th WSL World Title and a Wave of Attention that is Bigger than the Men’s

Three months after announcing equal pay for men and women, the World Surf League celebrates Stephanie Gilmore’s 7th World Title.

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WRITTEN BY

Brooke Hess

On September 5th, 2018, the World Surf League announced plans for equal pay in men and women’s surf competitions in the 2019 season. This announcement was a huge step forward, not only for women’s surfing, but for women’s sport in general. The WSL had set the standard for equal pay in athletics.

Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) the WINNER of the 2018 Corona Open J-Bay at Supertubes, Jeffreys Bay, South Africa. Gilmore now wears the Jeep Leader Jersey after beating Lakey Peterson (USA) in the Final and takes over the Yellow Jersey from Peterson (USA). Photo: World Surf League.

This past year, the WSL had received negative feedback after a photo went viral of the Billabong Ballito Pro Junior Series male champion being paid twice as much as the female champion. Most social media users were upset with the pay disparity at the event, commenting on the photo as “blatant inequality” and “archaic discrimination”. However, some social media users argued in favor of the unequal payout. They argued that men’s athletics are viewed in the media more than women’s athletics, therefore bringing in more revenue, and justifying the pay disparity. A social media user commented on the Billabong Junior Series surf photo saying, “Surfing, like most sports is a predominantly male sport. More people watch the men’s surfing, more men surf than women.”

THE CHICKEN OR THE EGG?

Many people would ask, do more people watch men’s surfing because it is actually more interesting? Or, do more people watch men’s surfing because that is what the media has always streamed, and thus, audiences are more accustomed to watching the men’s style as opposed to the women’s? Valeria Perasso at BBC News puts it well, “audiences will not get excited about women’s sport as it gets minimal exposure in the media, and the media would justify the lack of coverage by saying that female athletics do not generate enough audience engagement.” The same is true with other sports as well. Managing Director of the Women on Boards advocacy group, Fiona Hathorn, says, “Had our culture been used to seeing women rather than men playing rugby or football for generations, we would find the idea of men playing sports rather novel.”

NO LONGER A RELEVANT QUESTION?

If you head over to Google, use their News Search and type in “WSL Surf World Championship”, “2018 Surfing World Championship”, “Surf World Title WSL”, or anything along those lines, an article on Stephanie Gilmore and her 7th world title will be the first article to pop up. Every time. This means, not only are women now starting to get the pay they rightly deserve, but they are starting to get the media attention that goes along with it.

It was just last week, that Stephanie Gilmore won her 7th world championship title, proving to the world that women’s surfing deserves just as much attention, respect, and prize money as men’s surfing. She is now tied with Layne Beachley for the women’s world record of most surfing world titles.

With all this being said about the inequality between women’s and men’s athletics, the second half of 2018 has been a major year for progression of equality in women’s surfing. Women are now getting paid the same as men, and with Gilmore’s 7th world title win, she is also getting the same media attention as the men.

Hats off to Sophie Goldschmidt, the World Surf League’s new (and first female) CEO for pushing for equality!

Cover Photo: World Surf League

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