You have to be incredibly brave to surf a 70-foot wave, but you have to be orders of magnitude braver to surf a 70-foot wave on the exact same break where you were almost killed by a different monster wave. Brazilian big wave specialist Maya Gabeira is such a surfer, as she just set the record for biggest wave ever surfed by a woman and biggest wave surfed of the entire 2019-2020 winter season, seven years after she was slammed by a 50-foot wave, dragged through the water facedown, and eventually resuscitated by CPR.
Gabeira surfed the record-setting wave in Nazare, Portugal in February, though it took until this month for a team of scientists from Scripps Institute of Oceanography and USC to examine the wave and determine that it was 73.5 feet.
Interestingly enough, determining the heights of waves is an inexact science to the degree that Gabeira’s record is in dispute. Frenchwoman Justine Dupont surfed a 70-footer this winter, and the New York Times story on the matter says that some people within the big wave community think Dupont’s was actually the bigger wave. World Surf League talked to a professor about the science of measuring the precise heights of waves, and the process seems so hard because officials are essentially attempting to reverse engineer absolute heights from photographic evidence.
Both women surfed the huge waves of Nazare, which consistently generates the biggest surfable waves in the world each winter. A submarine canyon over 15,000 feet deep ends right outside of Nazare and helps generate the massive waves. It is impossible to catch waves like this by paddling, so would-be record setters like Gabeira have to be towed in on a jet ski. Someday, someone is going to surf the first-ever 100-footer, and it will almost certainly be in Nazare.
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