Updated: May 1, 2020
German Big wave Surfer and Billabong XXL Award Winner, Sebastian Steudtner and his ex-girlfriend, world record holder of 'largest wave ever surfed by a woman‘, Maya Gabeira made a clear statement about the World Surf League’s safety in our Interview at the Laureus Sport Awards in Berlin.
WMNSurfmag: To what extent is it even possible to provide safety when the conditions and the waves are so unpredictable in surfing?
Sebastian Steudtner: Much more than it is right now.
WMNSurfmag: So do you think the WSL can improve their safety what they are providing at the moment? What would you recommend or what could they do to make it better, to make it more safe?
"You have to have people involved in the safety who are professionals, who know what they’re doing, who are prepared for the worst case, which is a dead body floating in between the waves“
Sebastian Steudtner: Well, you have to have people involved in the safety and […] who are professionals, who know what they're doing, who are prepared for the worst case, which is a dead body floating in between the waves. It's their responsibility if they put on an event. And then they showcase what we're doing to millions of people on the web and wherever, that they provide safety that is able to get you within a reasonable time. Which is not in five minutes.
After Steudtners and Gabeiras (Team World) fellow competitor Alex Botelho had a heavy wipe out at the WSL’s Nazarè Tow in Challenge 2020, Jet Ski Driver Hugo Vau tried to pull the Surfer out of the impact zone. Alex managed to climb onto the sled attached to the ski, but when Hugo drove off, two waves collided and catapulted the Ski with both of them several meters high up into the air.
The Ski, as well as Alex Botelho and Hugo Vau then got sucked over the falls by the next wave. While Hugo managed to come up unharmed, Alex’ body remained floating unconsciously in the impact zone. The WSL’s rescue team did not manage to get to them in multiple attempts. It took nearly 5 minutes until Botelho’s body finally got washed up to shore and helpers were able to pull him out of the water.
Resuscitation was started at the beach until Botelho got rushed to a hospital. The Surfer survived the accident. According to our sources, Alex’ condition is stable but he is suffering from ‚secondary drowning‘ symptoms (when water gets into the lungs, it can irritate the lungs’ lining and fluid can build up. It can cause trouble breathing and, in worst-case scenarios, death).
Shortly after the incident was streamed on the live webcast, a highlight clip of Alex Botelhos near death experience was posted to the WSL’s Instagram account.
"Yes, it's true“, Steudtners answer to the question if their lives are only ‚clickbaites‘ for the WSL. Professional Surfer Albee Layer had commented on the WSL's Instagram post: 'Our lives are clickbait'.
The incident (in full length) was streamed and commented on the WSL’s live stream. Sebstatian, "And the second post that they put out is a highlight clip of the person laying there. Then you have to question, 'Why do you put that out? Why? What about his mom? What about the family? What about the people that are watching live?' It’s very disrespectful to the Athlete and the Family“
Maya Gabeira has had a similar near death experience at the same surf spot six years ago. Her accident was shared all across the internet and she dealt with a lot of criticism in regards to her performance and Surfing giant waves 'as a female Surfer‘.
WMNSurfmag: You have experienced a heavy wipeout yourself. What does it take to make a comeback from such an experience?
Maya Gabeira: Making that image very public definitely adds a lot to the trauma. I think my incident, near-drowning in Nazare, was something very publicized. And I think that it took a lot of digesting for me to do after because everyone saw it and I saw it, that image. I was unconscious, so it was-- I didn't have that image and once you have that image, it's very hard to get over it. And yeah, you'll probably have to do quite a bit of work to get over what happened and what you will see and what people will say and all of that. So it's difficult to know. Honestly, I was pretty sure the next day I didn't surf when I went out there. So I called him into a few waves but we were not really feeling it.
And it took six years to see another unconscious body floating in that place again. And I didn't want to see it. I hope that we were at a point where we didn't have to see that anymore.
WMNSurfmag: Do you think the safety improved since your accident?
Maya Gabeira: The safety has definitely improved but the number of people that are surfing and charging out there has also increased and the level has increased. So I'm not sure if the safety is at the level of performance right now and, of course, they were dealing with worst worst-case scenario, which is an unconscious body in the impact zone. It's very difficult. You need to really be super trained, have serious professionals on hand and still, it's a risk. It's one of the most dangerous sports you can really do so it's like we're here sitting like, "Bummer. Somebody went unconscious on the lineup." But yes, it's what can happen. We all know that. We just really hope that we can put together a team that can make that body get to the shore as quick as possible and not have a body making it to the shore by itself.
Thanks for talking to us!