Over the past few years, big-wave surfing has been attracting more ladies to the beaches of Tahiti, Hawaii and Australia. For the uninitiated, to be a big wave, the swell must be at least 20 feet high, but they can reach as high as 50.
Maya first caught the surfing bug when she was 14 -- while watching from shore as her boyfriend played in the waves. She swears up and down she was the absolute worst student at her surf school when she finally signed up, which kind of makes us like her even more.
Now, just nine years later, she feels a bit lost when she's not atop a wave. Traveling all over the world to ride, she's made quite a name for herself in the surfing community -- as well as in the sports world. In 2009, she nabbed nothing short of the 2009 ESPY for Best Female Action Sport Athlete.
After hiding all of our snack food, Lemondrop caught up with Maya to find out what it's like to be a surfer chick, to hear how she overcame one of her worst wipeouts ever (think: facial reconstructive surgery) and, well, to steal any salt-water-based beauty secrets she might want to share. Coconut water -- who knew!?
How old were you when you first started surfing?
I started surfing when I was 14. I had a boyfriend at the time, and he surfed and so did all our friends. I used to go the beach with them and just sit there and watch. And I really just saw them coming in with big smiles on their faces, and they had so much fun that I wanted to join them out there, so I joined a local surfschool in Ipanema.
How long did it take you get the hang of it?
A month. I was the worst. At the time my surf school had probably 30 people, and I was the worst.
Were you the only girl?
No, I tend to think surf schools have more girls than guys. I think guys -- they just get on a board and go more than girls.
What attracted you to big wave surfing?
It always kind of fascinated me. We have a beach in the area there, and when it got really stormy, the waves got big -- not too big, but big for Rio. And I just sat and watched. The beach got so crowded, and all the guys would jump off the rocks. I wanted to make my way out there. I always thought it was so impressive, and I wanted to be brave enough to do it. Then, when I was 17, I went to Hawaii and really started to see perfect huge waves and got inspired.
Still, how do you approach a big wave for the first time? That's pretty nerve-wracking.
I think it's the commitment, and the time I put in behind-the-scenes: The training, and the physical conditioning, and the skills -- and all those years of practice and all those years of being out there and knowing my equipment and knowing the waves I'm going to surf -- that keeps me calm. But I'm still super scared: The only difference is, now I know the risks, I can control my emotions more and still act even though I am scared.
Do you have a playlist that you listen to before getting in the water?
Yes. Eminem's "I'm Not Afraid" and "I Love the Way You Lie" -- those two are amazing. "Empire State of Mind" by Jay-Z and "Hello Brooklyn," I really like that, too. I love Alicia Keys, too. There's this one song called "Unthinkable [I'm Ready]" that's sad, but it's pretty amazing.
So what was the best surf of your life so far?
My best day in the ocean is a tough one. In 2007 in Tahiti, in Teahupo'o, which is one of my favorite waves, was my biggest day out there. That was an incredible experience that I'll always remember. The time I spent surfing the really big Waimea in Hawaii in 2006. I was 18. And when I got my biggest wave ever in South Africa last year in August. Those three times.
What are the struggles of being a girl, in particular, especially when it comes to big-wave surfing?
I think you got the respect by doing your best and never giving up and always coming back from big crashes. I was really dedicating myself and putting my time out there. I caught the attention of some of the top male surfers who surf big waves, and they kind of took me under their wing. And that's how I got the respect from everyone else.
Speaking of big crashes, what was the worst that it got for you?
I have had many bad injuries. But I had a really bad crash when I was tow surfing in Brazil -- that's when they have to tow you out to the wave on a Jet Ski. It wasn't giant, but there's a place we go when it's stormy and the waves get big. I was tow surfing with my partner and I fell. The board hit my nose, and my nose broke in 12 places. I was unconscious.
My partner rescued me. When I woke up, I was already on an IV and getting prepped for surgery. I was really injured. My whole face was messed up, and it was really painful to recover from because it was such a big impact on my face. I had to get reconstructive surgery so I could breathe again. Plastic surgery too.
And you still go back out there! If you grew up landlocked, do you think your life would look a lot different?
I don't know. I could have been lost, I think. I'd be like, "What am I supposed to do on this planet?" But I love fashion. My mom is a fashion designer, so I was always running around the runways, Fashion Week in Brazil and all of that. And my dad's a politician, so I was involved in all his campaigns. So if I didn't do what I do, I'd probably just kind of follow in their steps in either one of those fields.
You're obviously a super-gutsy girl. Do they think that 16-year-old Abby Sunderland should have set sail?
I think it's crazy. But I think that must be her passion, and I think she should follow it. And I bet a lot of people just look at what I do and think I'm crazy. I know the risks, but I manage them. I work to minimize them the most I can and just follow my passion.
What's in your beach beauty kit?
I always use sunscreen, and I always put protection on my hair. Whenever I come out of the water, I always rinse off with either mineral water or coconut water. It makes [your hair] soft. It hydrates it after you've been in the sun too long or exposed to wind, and it really helps. And then I just put leave-in condition after I go shower.
I like Aveda a lot for most things, and then there's Shisheido for sunscreen. They have a foundation that's really good. It's like a powder and looks like makeup but it's sunscreen. And it sticks to your face for a long time.
What's your advice to the ladies who want to surfing for the first time?
First, don't give up right away. It's a very difficult sport to learn. Just appreciate the fact that you're going out and trying it because eventually you'll learn. It just takes time and dedication. Get someone who knows how to surf to teach you so you can go out there and feel comfortable in the ocean. Someone who's patient will make it easier for you to learn and make it more fun than when you're just by yourself and struggling.
Want to know more about Maya's world? Check out the video:
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