My path to the pros

Pro surfer Maya Gabeira talks about life on the water, dating and shattering her nose in 12 places. Williams & Hirakawa

The beginning

Growing up, I was a girly girl. I didn't play many sports in Rio de Janeiro. Soccer, of course, is big in Brazil, but not for girls, so I danced a lot, starting when I was 7 or 8. I loved it. I guess I started dancing because decisions at that age are made by parents, but I was really passionate about it. I danced every day, five hours a day. I also did gymnastics, but that's pretty standard in Rio. It was at the local soccer center near me, but I don't remember much of it. Playing sports when I was young was tough because I've been dealing with chronic asthma since I was a year old. I had to work around it; it was difficult to learn to find that limit. It wasn't easy.

The middle school days

Like I said, I don't remember gymnastics very well, but I quit dancing when I was 12. All of a sudden, I just woke up one day and I wasn't into it anymore. My mom and I still don't understand what happened, and I didn't pick up surfing until 14, so I had a two-year gap where I didn't play any sports.

The high school years

I picked surfing up at 14 at a surf school about 35 minutes north of my house. Two years later, I started training with a coach, Christian Moutinho. A lot of my friends were training with him, and I used to take public transportation to meet him to train. He'd take me surfing, he'd film and then he'd give me tips on how to get better. At that point, I was still doing amateur contests, but I stopped a year later when I moved to Hawaii, where I started surfing big waves. That's when my surfing went to a different level.

I started working as a waitress to be able to stay there in the winter months because that's when the surf's the best. That year I didn't have a trainer, and I only had a couple of small sponsors from Brazil, who gave me some clothes. Nothing big. As that year went on, though, I realized I had the potential to be really good and possibly go pro. I was still living in Hawaii, and had spent seven months in Indonesia, too, which was really cool, just living month to month on my waitressing money and surfing wherever and whenever I wanted.

Then I began getting recruited by the surfing industry in Brazil, and when I turned 19, the worldwide media started to take notice. Here I am, 20 and on my own, and I'd just gotten sponsored by Red Bull and Billabong, and I was actually being paid to do what I do.

My biggest moment during that time, the one I look back on as a turning point, was going to Tahiti when I was 20, in 2007. It was my first huge swell. Massive waves, huge names in the competition and Red Bull was filming a movie there, too. I was so nervous, but the people around me pushed me to go, just to see if I had what it took to actually surf it. And I did it. That was my first really big wave, and it got me all kinds of attention. It was a great start to my career, and I almost didn't go.

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