Big Wave Wahine
Brazilians Andrea Moller and Maria Souza go against the current in the male-dominated world of watersports.
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Photography by Jason Moore | Nicole Sanchez | Bruno Lemos | Paulo Magalhares
In May 2006, Andrea Moller lost a race. After training hard all year and paddling her guts out in a one-man outrigger canoe for 32 miles from Moloka‘i to O‘ahu, she failed to cross the finish line. “I got to O‘ahu second,” Andrea explains, “but took the wrong route and didn’t see the crossing line.”
Maria Souza met her on the beach with lei and water, and Andrea, spent and dehydrated, burst into tears as she realized she hadn’t actually finished the race. Still, for Andrea, who, like Maria, is a surfer, windsurfer, paddler, stand-up paddler, paddleboarder, and foilboarder, that crossing was her biggest accomplishment to date.
“I had no escort boat, no water, no food, no coach, no guidance,” Andrea tells me as friend and tow-in surf partner Maria nods affirmation. Each competitor or team crossing Kaiwi Channel, some of the trickiest water in Hawai‘i, is required to have an escort boat that carries supplies and knowledge of the coming weather and the best course to take.
But Andrea’s escort-boat captain had failed to refuel before departing from Moloka‘i and he ran out of gas midway across, disappearing from Andrea’s sight. Not knowing where the boat had gone, Andrea kept paddling toward O`ahu with nothing but her own keen senses to guide her. Then dehydration began to take over. “I’m just glad to be alive,” Andrea says. “I needed to live that experience to know I could do it. I completed the race as a waterwoman.”
“Waterwoman” describes what’s at the core of Andrea and Maria: courage, endurance, water savvy. These two Brazilians challenged the status quo of Hawai`i’s big-wave surfing by being the first and only women’s tow-in team to surf Jaws, the legendary wave at Pe‘ahi on Maui’s north shore. The men who cut the first tracks down the face of Jaws describe the wave as terrifying and deadly. Standing on the cliffs at Pe‘ahi, you can watch rainbows forming in the spray rising 100 feet in the air from a 50-foot wave. The power of the wave shakes the island. People are tiny out there, miniscule. Yet these two women have now carved tracks of their own.