The World Surf League’s inaugural Big Wave Nazaré Tow Surfing contest happened earlier this year in Spain, where daring big wave surfers from around the world gathered at the infamous Praia do Norte surf break to test their mettle. A thrilling but dangerous spot, the massive swells at Nazaré mean waves routinely reach the height of small buildings, leaving no room for the faint of heart.

This year, Brazil’s Maya Gabeira not only won the cbdMD XXL Biggest Wave Award for her ride at Nazaré in February, but she set a new Guinness World Record for largest wave ever surfed by a woman. After a jet ski tow in, Gabeira ripped down the face of this monster, which officials have measured at 73.5 feet. In doing so, she beat her own previous world record of riding a 68-foot wave, set in 2018.

While the men and women compete in different categories, Gabeira’s ride also beat out Kai Lenny, the men’s Biggest Wave winner, whose ride measured 70 feet.

“I’m not a competitive person but I was very in the zone and felt braver than I usually am on this day,” Gabeira said via phone to For The Win. “I was just very focused and committed.”

Gabeira said that she had inkling this could be one of the biggest rides of her career as soon as she let go of the tow rope.

“I could tell by the speed, ok this is something, but the noise, the noise behind me when the wave broke really let me know. It was the most powerful, most loud sound and I knew it was something different, something that I had not done before.”

In a rare occurrence, the wave Gabeira rode came close to another ride by female surfer Justine Dupont, whose ride measured just 2 to 3 feet shorter, according to the WSL.

Measuring big waves isn’t an exact science, but the World Surf League called in a panel of experts to determine the relative size of the wave. Adam Fincham, a scientist at the University of Southern California, Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering, said the team used a sequence of photos and videos and then did some good old fashioned math to determine the size.

“We studied the angles and used geometry to determine the size,” Fincham said. “We could be slightly off in the measure, but there’s no doubt that this wave is bigger than the one in 2018 and what else was surfed that day.”

Another key and unlikely factor the team used was the jet ski that Gabeira towed in on.

“That became our measuring stick,” Fincham said.”It was important to note that as waves break, they change, and we judged the wave at the time the surfer dropped into it, not before, to get the full height.”

While many may think that big wave surfers have a cavalier attitude towards danger, Gabeira said that’s far from the truth. While her big wave ride, and the validation that comes with a new world record was a thrill, she’s not eager to do it again.

“I was too close to danger,” Gabeira said with a laugh over the phone. “I wouldn’t do that again. I think I only have so many I can survive, right?”

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