Just in time for the opening of Mavericks season here in the Bay Area, some stunning visuals of how far big-wave surfers are pushing the limits across the world emerged from Europe.
The photos and video attached are from Monday's action at a break called Nazare in Portugal. Some of the surfing world's most extreme boundary pushers showed up to be towed into waves produced by the St. Jude's Day storm that was battering much of Europe.
Brazilian surfer Maya Gabeira was fortunate to survive the adventure. (See video of her wave and subsequent rescue.) Gabeira was towed into a massive wave by countryman Carlos Burle, a veteran of many Mavericks surf contests. Gabeira successfully descended the choppy wave face, avoiding five to six stories of roiling whitewater, but eventually got clipped and fell.
Gabeira's ankle was broken in the fall and Burle attempted to rescue her on his jet ski. After her attempt to grab onto the rescue sled failed, she fell unconscious and only a last-ditch rescue effort by Burle saved her life.
"We got lucky. We got to the beach. I don't know how, but we made it to the beach," Burle told Stab Magazine. "They started administering CPR immediately, and she coughed up a bucket load of water and she started breathing. Then they took her away in the ambulance. I was shaking."
But Burle apparently calmed his nerves enough to go get towed into a Nazare behemoth himself. The right-hander he caught might end up being the biggest wave ever ridden, with some estimating it topped 100 feet. (The world record is a 78-footer ridden by Burle's friend and veteran Mavericks competitor Garrett McNamara at Nazare in 2011.)
"I don't know — it's not impossible," Burle told Stab. "There was a lot of space on that wave. I don't know how big it was. ... I don't want to make the call. Someone else can tell me how big it was."
Most mortals will never understand what makes big-wave surfers tick. But this quote from Burle helps explain just how far some are willing to go in order to reach unchartered heights:
"I tell you what made me happy was talking and laughing with Maya in the hospital," he told Stab. "She told me that she knew that she was dying and that she felt happy. That she was dying happy. I told her that she might have been happy, but I was way more happy that she didn't die. She is my friend. She trains hard and she's passionate. I would have been very depressed if she had died."
Though Mavericks doesn't produce a ridable wave as large as Nazare -- and using personal watercraft to tow into its largest waves has been banned -- the window for big swells is swinging open in Northern California. The Mavericks Surf Contest held its opening ceremonies last Friday and the window for a contest-worthy day to arrive opens Friday, continuing through March 31