The evolution of big wave surfing has introduced a plethora of discussion topics, from who snags the biggest wave of each year to how we categorize rides that end in absolute destruction for a committed surfer. Does slingshotting into the biggest peak supersede paddling into the steepest and deepest takeoff?
Where does the heaviest critical wave face stand against larger waves with an open shoulder to escape? The debates are a testament to just how high the performance bar sits in 2020, now decades after we started watching in awe as pioneers like Laird Hamilton towed into monsters from behind a jet ski.
According to Portugal-based videographer Jorge Leal, one worthy debate comes in examining two of last season's rides at Nazaré, one being Kai Lenny's award-winning performance at the Nazaré Tow Surfing Challenge and the other from Maya Gabeira on the same day.
"In my opinion, Maya's wave was the biggest of the year," Leal tells The Inertia. "The line she drew shows a huge commitment, risking her life on an unprecedented wave. I witnessed and filmed all of the biggest waves this season and hers was the biggest."
Leal brings up some of the follow-up questions that force us to analyze and examine the incredible and historic performances of big wave athletes.
"Did she complete the wave?" he asks. "What we do know from previous years is that finishing the wave is not a requirement," referencing past world record and award-winning waves from surfers like Aaron Gold, Grant ‘Twiggy' Baker, and Nathan Florence, in which "you can see that (the) ride (isn't) completed. The surfer disappears in an explosion of whitewater."
So is this the first year that a woman will be recognized for riding the biggest wave?