It was probably the most dramatic moment in 2014's surf calendar, when Mahina Maeda dared challenge the giant waves of Nazaré, to have an apparent close encounter with catastrophe. But it was all much better than what it looked on video.
Mahina, only 17 now, is 4th in the rank of the World Qualifying Series, which means that she can qualify for the WCT, and she is one of the hardest working surfers in the world. She is no stranger to Portugal, nabbing the junior world championship in Ericeira, a surf camp treasure that regularly hosts competitions. But there aren't many places in the world that can offer you such titanic waves as those on Nazaré. When Garrett McNamara rode his 100 feet giant, that was all too apparent.
Mahina faced the waves of Nazaré:
To become only the second woman to try and rule over the lips of Nazaré, tells you a lot of how committed and talented the young Hawaiian is. Not only that, but Nazaré is not for the faint of heart or the inexperienced. To ride a wave there is something at the reach of only the best and the bravest surfers in the world. That's the very exclusive club in which Mahina definitely entered.
Garrett himself towed her into that colossal wave, but as it turned out she ended up facing a closeout. Mahina had only a few seconds to making the right or wrong move and escape the collapsing lip or be buried under it. What ensued was a David vs Goliath struggle where many surfers would fail.
Not Mahina. Riding with determination down the tremendous wall of water, she escaped the collapsing lip in the nick of time, suddenly disappearing under a mountain of furious foam that dwarfed the then 16 year old teenager. Those on the beach or looking from afar let out their excitement, but Mahina emerged unscathed. This was a far better outcome than the one that nearly drowned Maya Gabeira, a very experienced and well-known big wave rider.
Mahina wasn't just lucky but tremendously skilful and Nazaré is certainly a place to make or break surfers of legend. We will keep on the lookout to see what Mahina and Nazaré can give us in 2015.