Despite having the most coastline of any state in the U.S., Alaska’s freezing temperatures preclude most people from surfing its ample waves. But for big-wave surfers who can handle the cold, the enormous swells of Yakutat Bay are hard to resist. “We went in winter,” says surfer Maya Gabeira. “To surf solid waves surrounded by snow and snow-covered mountains was surreal.”
Alaska’s Yakutat Bay extends to the Gulf of Alaska, which spans the south side of the state. Thanks to consistent swells that can balloon out to more up to 20 feet, the small town of Yakutat (pop. 662) has become Alaska’s self-proclaimed surf mecca—referred to locally as “The Far North Shore.” The town’s sole surf shop is aptly named Icy Waves.
To help them endure the subzero temperatures, Gabeira and team donned hooded wetsuits, gloves, and booties. They had to walk across the snow in order to reach the water—a first for all of them. The stark-white 17,000-foot Saint Elias Mountains, which hold the world’s most extensive ice fields outside the polar ice caps, were in constant view. “It was definitely an experience I will never forget,” says Gabeira.
In 2009, Maya Gabeira surfed a 45-foot wave in South Africa’s Dungeons break—the biggest ever by a woman—earning her that year’s ESPY Award for Best Female Action Sport Athlete. In 2012, she won the “Girl’s Best Performance” title at the Billabong XXL Global Big Wave Awards. The Brazilian was the first (although no longer the only) sponsored female big-wave surfer in the world. Read her Adventurers of the Year profile.
Maya Gabeira's Gear Pick: iPhone
“I go everywhere with my iPhone—I love snapping pictures, and I can't lose contact with my family while on the road. A Lifeproof case is awesome. It is waterproof and super protective."