Tracing by maya gabeira adventure to surf one of the biggest waves in the world in Nazaré, Portugal, Stephanie Johnes’ documentary film “maya and the wave” splits its time between a standard documentary on Gabeira’s rise in the community and an insightful critique of how institutionalized misogyny in the surfing world has sought to diminish Gabeira’s contributions to the sport. With some incredible footage and using Gabeira to tell his own story, it’s an entertaining and informative exploration of the professional surfing community.
The enormous waves of Nazaré act as a framing device within the story and as the white whale of Gabeira. The daughter of the Brazilian politician Fernando Gabeira — whose life was the basis of 1997 “four days in september” — Maya turned pro at age 17, surfing alongside her mentor, Charles Burle, and be sponsored by Red Bull. Never given full credit for his abilities, in 2013 he decided to surf the waves in Nazaré, a small town that quickly became known for its preternaturally large waves, often over 60 feet high and resembling something like this. like a moving wall.
As most of this information is given in the first third of the film, it’s not exactly a surprise when Gabeira sustains multiple injuries after a failed first attempt, eventually being saved by Burle and leading to a lengthy recovery process that eventually ends. extends to years. Johnes’ film may begin as a more or less standardized sports documentary, using fellow surfers to contextualize Maya’s skill in the water and her rise through the ranks. But halfway through, coinciding with that twisted injury, the film becomes more about Maya’s recovery and the inordinate expectations placed on a woman in sports. Both sections work well with each other, but the latter half is ultimately more focused and interesting.
His recovery is documented by Red Bull and Johnes at the same time, creating a strange spectacle as he basically acts out his warm-up and training routines for a Red Bull documentary, all while Johnes’ camera watches the action unfold. The strange meta-ness of this shows how his recovery is commercialized and commodified. Red Bull wants to position her narrative as overcoming the wave that nearly killed her, but as the surgeries and years pile up, they also grow impatient with her production, unwilling to accept their own timeline. Needless to say, Red Bull doesn’t look too good.
Gabeira eventually surfing the wave isn’t so much a spoiler as it is the first step toward a professional recovery for her. Receiving little credit for such a feat, she begins petitioning Guinness to split surfing world records into male and female categories, sparking a movement online to consider just how male-dominated the world of surfing is.
While the film raises these issues (endorsements, entrenched sexism, etc.), Johnes filters them through Gabeira’s uplifting narrative. If these last sections are perhaps superficial in their treatment of the social and economic systems that try to keep Gabeira in his place, they are also the most absorbing. This is simply because we see Gabeira having to deal with the physical cost of surfing as well as the emotional work required to gain even a little recognition for her achievements in a system that is determined to marginalize her. While the ending is obvious, “Maya and the Wave” still offers a riveting exploration of Gabeira’s recovery and determination. [B]
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