Big-wave surfer Maya Gabeira isn’t just about cover shoots and sunkissed Brazilian beaches. Broken bones, a twisted back and asthma are a big part of the queen of big surf’s story…
In October 2008, I broke my nose pulling into a barrel. The board came back into my face in the water. I came up, and I felt blood in a gash. I felt like I was about to pass out. I raised my hand and saw [fellow big-wave surfer] Eraldo Gueiros go by on the [jet] ski, and he looked into my eyes and I just passed out. And the next thing I’m in the ambulance with my mom, and my dad met me at the hospital. My first concern was, “When can I surf again?” Obviously, it’s the first question after every single injury I’ve had.
I’ve been thinking that it’s not a bad thing having asthma if you surf big waves. Because one of the biggest challenges and fears of people when they go surfing is that they’ll be out of breath. But I was born out of breath, and that’s my struggle since then. I’ve been going to the hospital out of breath, passing out right before I get the thing on my mouth and start breathing again. So it’s a sensation I’ve had since I was really young, and I’ve dealt with it. I don’t panic when I’m underwater.
Back on the ground
My back is not the best back ever. Carlos [Carlos Burle, Maya’s big-surf mentor] wanted to tow-surf Jaws [the monster wave in Hawaii] in late January. I had twisted my back pretty badly, but I pushed through. Four hours later he looks at my face and goes, “Are you OK?” When I got to the marina it was a done deal. This nurse gave me a couple of cortisone shots and I lay on my side at my house for, like, 10 hours. I couldn’t even crawl to the restroom.
You can't have control over everything: It's Mother Nature
Body and mind
I’ve been biking a lot uphill lately, because it helps my lungs, too. You get that constant burn in your lungs. At the gym with my trainer I do a lot of weight training and balance and abs. If you’re paddling you need strong arms, and you need balance and explosiveness to catch the wave. To recover from bad wipeouts mentally, though, you need time. You try and take some lessons out of it – there’s always mistakes or risks I should maybe not have taken. But you can’t have control over everything: it’s mother nature.
I’m better [about diet] nowadays [laughs]. I eat everything, but I haven’t been eating a lot of carbs. I used to snack a lot, eating cereal bars and granola, but it was a lot of sugar and carbs and I changed it around for more protein – like cheese and turkey breast. I never thought those things were snacks. Snacks for me are something sweet and crunchy. But I had a turkey jerky on the way over here. Our sport is a lot about muscle strength and mental strength, but not necessarily the strength you need as an Olympic athlete.
I had a serious virus a few weeks ago. I’m the type of person who can go from peak to peak and never have a slow energy day. But when I go down, I go down. I’ll call you from the hospital and let you know which emergency room I’m in. I was in Tahiti for a big swell, but I hadn’t surfed in 10 days and I had lost 10lbs (4.5kg). I spent the whole morning in the hospital, went home for lunch and threw up, like, seven times, and came back. I had my mom and dad in Rio on Skype in the hospital room and they were freaking out. And the nurse was like, “You can’t talk! You can’t talk!”
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