On Feb. 11 this year, Maya Gabeira rode a monster wave all the way into the Guinness Book of World Records. Scientists determined that the wave the 33-year-old Brazilian rode off Nazare, Portugal, was 73.5 feet tall—a world record for a woman, and the biggest wave surfed by anybody in the world in the 2019-20 winter season. The New York Times calls it a "Danica Patrick moment" for the sport. "I had never been so close to such a powerful explosion," says Gabeira, who almost drowned after wiping out on a 50-foot wave at Nazare in 2013 and spent years recovering. "I had never felt that energy and that noise. It felt really terrifying."
The wave beat the 70-foot behemoth surfed by men's champ Kai Lenny at Nazare the same day—and the 68-foot wave Gabeira set the previous women's record with in 2018. Measuring the size of record-breaking waves is a difficult task, says Guinness, which enlisted teams from the University of Southern California, WaveCo Science Team, and Scripps Institution of Oceanography to review the footage as independent witnesses. French surfer Justine Dupont rode a wave the same day that was later determined to be 70 feet, though she believes it may have been as big as Gabeira's. The Times notes that the "friendly rivalry" between the women has helped bring attention to female big-wave surfers, who have long been overlooked by sponsors. (Read more surfing stories.)