Maya Gabeira used to go to the beach just to tan. She was 14, living in Rio de Janeiro and dating a surfer dude. She would watch from the shore as he carved up the ocean. "I'd see him coming in with that big smile, all soaked, and I'd feel like I was missing out on something," she says. "So with his support, I started surf school."
Within about 3 years, Gabeira had moved to Hawaii to pursue surfing professionally. Now 24, she holds the women's world record for the largest wave ever surfed, a 45-footer in South Africa. So you'd be forgiven if you saw her on the beach, moving with such grace and confidence, and were too intimidated to walk right up and say hello.
And if you did work up the nerve, she just might intimidate you further. Perhaps it would be the alluring, exotic way she elongates her words, or the subtle lift in her voice at the ends of her sentences, as if she's always asking a question. Her Brazilian accent laces everything -- Brazil is Braw-zeel and sexy is say-xy, as in "I feel say-xy exposing my body. Maybe it has to do with being Braw-zeelian: I feel comfortable with little clothes."
Even when she talks about shattering her nose in 12 places -- her board walloped her in the face during a tow-surfing outing -- she sounds oddly sensuous. "I don't think I really give the impression of being fragile," she admits, laughing. "I'm told I have quite a hard skin on me."
To read the rest of the story, check out the rest here in the current issue of Men's Health.