Maya and the Wave ★★★ 1/2 TIFF 2022

Maya and the Wave ★★★ 1/2 TIFF 2022

A decent feature documentary that would be better suited to being a series, Maya and the Wave connects well but feels rushed. Maya Gabeira is a force; a longer format is needed to showcase that.

Maya Gabeira grew up in Brazil with a dream to surf competitively. Like any surfer, she had to overcome the hazards of the ocean through training and discipline. But she was also forced to confront deep chauvinism in the male-dominated sport as naysayers second-guessed her every move. 

Maya and the Wave struggles with its flow and has so many interesting areas spoken about regarding Maya and her journey to be one of the best Big Wave Surfers in the history of the world. So this actually becomes an issue that we are given a 90-minute feature film instead of a multiple-episode series, with each episode touching upon what we see here.

By truncating some of these portions of her life, we feel as if we have been robbed of something more. Maya is a very interesting subject and immensely likeable, so you do resonate with her and what she is doing. However, touching on moments to then move on and maybe returning back to a previous one is frustrating. I am sure there is enough footage shot and archival footage to do that, and it would be great to see that as it would connect so much more to audiences, especially young girls who may be interested in the sport.

A lot of the promotion of the film is about the chauvinism in place in the sport of surfing, yet it is more of a bookend here, with the bulk of the documentary focusing on her recovery from a near-death incident out on the waves. That, in truth, should be where Stephanie Johnes‘ film connects with you. But, equally, seeing the pressure her sponsors, Red Bull, have placed on her and her recovery is just as interesting; they see every athlete as a commodity. So if they are injured and not performing in their sport, then they can make a glossy doc about her recovery.

We see this from the outside, and again it becomes an avenue that you would actively see more of in the film. Maya’s body is racked with pain. She is in tears on the ski when out of their shots; she is frustrated. Yet there she is, forced to keep going when proper rest is required of her. Their treatment of her is astonishingly brutal, and they come out of Maya and the Wave in such a poor manner that you wonder if that is how they treat all of their athletes. Dolls that they, yes, pay handsomely but wear down until they are of no use before simply tossing them to the side for the next shiny one.

Johnes captures some breathtaking images here, leaving your jaw firmly on the ground as we witness one of the best in her sport grapple successfully and unsuccessfully with some waves that would give us land lovers nightmares for the rest of our lives. She also gets some extraordinary comments from some talking heads, including a seemingly misguided one from Maya’s former mentor Carlos Burle who comments on how Maya was the total package for sponsors and media but goes on to describe her body.

We get his point that she is attractive and obviously, attractive athletes sell better, yet to break it down in that way proves Gabiera and Johnes’ point. Former Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli can attest to how the media treat women who do not fit that perfect mould. It is disheartening to see it is something that is in so many sports even today. The female athlete is seemingly thought of by their looks first and then their achievements. Burle, in one comment, cements the battle that Gabiera and others will continue to face.

Maya and the Wave should be like Maya Gabeira herself, wholly inspiring. It never fully achieves that, though, due to how truncated it feels. However, it will still grab your attention due to the gorgeous shots on the show. However you want more of her and her story, there really felt like there was a lot left on the shelf regarding her story.


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