When it comes to Nazare, are you intrigued or do you want to keep well away from that thing? As a teen, would you even think about attempting to surf it? A few years back, the then 16-year-old Mahina Maeda, from the North Shore of Oahu, was “tricked” into surfing that boiling fever pit by Garrett McNamara, but in doing so, became one of the youngest women ever to wrangle Portugal's gigantic wave.
“Sitting in the Nazare lineup felt almost a little eerie but in a good way,” Mahina tells MSW. “And going down the biggest wave felt like... going down a roller coaster and not being able to scream. After my two rides I was addicted.”
Live cam: Nazare
Nowadays, Mahina's a 22-year-old QS warrior - but has her sights set on Olympic glory. Only, she will be representing Japan rather than the US. “I have dual nationality with America and Japan, it was a hard choice to make,” she says adding that the spirit of Japan falls more inline with her surfing and mindset.
Anyway, we wanted to pick Mahina's brain on surfing Nazare at such a young age, Japan Vs the US and what the Olympic site at Shidashita is actually like to surf. (Spoiler: “ uh.... It's an okay wave”.)
Tell us a bit about yourself, where did you grow up and where did you learn to surf?
My name is Mahina Maeda, I am 22-years-old, and I was born and raised on the North Shore of Oahu. I live at Sunset Beach, Hawaii and part time in Chigasaki, Japan. Both my parents are Japanese, and I can speak English and Japanese. My dad taught me how to surf I think at either Sunset or Haleiwa.
And we understand you are one of the youngest women to surf Nazare, how did that trip come about?
I was 16 at that time. It was my first WSL World Junior title at Ericeira, Portugal. They ended up finishing the contest early. And I was travelling with the boys who were staying with my dad and I (Barron Mamiya and Kaulana Apo).
Uncle Garret used to be tow partners with my dad. It was more like a reunion at first. Until we decided to go surf it...
We wanted to do some surfing and sightseeing and to go see my uncle Garret McNamara. Uncle Garret used to be tow partners with my dad. It was more like a reunion at first. Until we decided to go surf it... the second day was huge and the boys were doing step offs, and eventually it got bigger. Long story short, he tricked me into catching a wave, and I got towed into the biggest wave of my life.
And to do it at 16, that’s insane. What was going through your mind, any nerves or did you feel comfortable? And also, GMac tricked you...?
First, I was confused, then after watching the boys on the backup ski I felt comfortable in a way. I wanted to try but I was too scared to say let's do it. Uncle Garret decided to tell me that my dad told me to catch a wave. I should've known it was not true [laughs].
Sitting in the Nazare lineup felt almost a little eerie, but in a good way and going down the biggest wave felt like going down a roller coaster and not being able to scream. After my two rides I was addicted.
How did that compare to surfing at home on Oahu?
In a way, it's a little similar, the power is there, Nazare is almost like a giant shorebreak. That wave has mana like some of the waves over here at home.
Are you more of a big wave surfer, then?
I wouldn't say so. It's been a while since I caught that wave. Any true big wave surfer would have to do it consistently. But with the world on hold, I find myself exploring that area again.
What type of waves do you like surfing?
Lefts... I think being on the QS, I am so sick of going right, but I still do like rights though, like Haleiwa or Honolua. But I do like punchier waves and waves with long walls like Fiji and Rockies.
Tokyo 2021 could be a massive stage for surfing in general – you’re hoping to compete in the Olympics as part of the Japan team and not the US, why’s that?
Honestly, leaving the Hawaiian flag was really hard. Hawaii is the birthplace of surfing and I am super proud of being born and raised here and having the Hawaiian flag next to your name gives you a great sense of pride. I learned how to surf here in Hawaii and you see that mana. Being that I have dual nationality with America and Japan, it was a hard choice to make.
Ultimately I chose Japan, Japan has the samurai or warrior feeling and humbling attitude
Ultimately I chose Japan, Japan has the samurai or warrior feeling and humbling attitude, so having both backgrounds gives me great spiritual strength. I have tremendous pride in being both Japanese and Hawaiian. Going to the Olympics would be a great accomplishment and I do feel that I'd be representing both my nationalities . But first and foremost I want to qualify for the tour. If I do get the chance to do the Olympics, I will work super hard to represent.
What do you think about the Olympics?
When I think of sports, it's the Olympics. I think surfing being a part of the Olympics will be beneficial to our sport. For years, surfing was considered more of a hobby, I think it will open up our viewers and help them really appreciate our sport.
Have you surfed a lot at the site? How is it?
Yes, and uh.... It's an okay wave. The wave fluctuates a lot with the tide and swell. It's not the worst wave but it also isn't the best. The good thing is, it's a very consistent wave for Japan. Japan really relies on typhoons. But this spot is somewhat breaking every time. And all the Japanese guys are always out there. Whether it's one inch to 4ft over.
For young women looking to make a career out of pro surfing, what advice would you give them?
Don't read the comments on social media [laughs]. I would say work hard and stand your ground. A woman can be that one person to watch out for in the lineup. In a good way. But that doesn't mean to burn people or snake people. It means to act strong and be respectful. And people will realise that you're not some random person.
Do you think there’s more the industry can do to better support female athletes?
I am fortunate to have great outside the industry sponsors but think some of the ladies struggle getting solid support sometimes. The WSL initiative of equal pay is a great step in the right direction.
Let’s talk equipment – what do you ride?
I ride Eric Arakawa AMP in Hawaii. And lately, I have been trying out DHDs for the QS and even in town. And so far I really like them!
We heard you’ve been giving Jordy Smith some training tips using ginastica natural techniques – tell us about that.
I decided to get my Ginastica Natural trainers license at 18. My mentor, coach, hanai dad Kid Peligro works and teaches at Sunset Beach Jiu Jitsu. But before that I trained with him for two years. So these past four years I have been working alongside him. We've had some incredible athletes come and train. And Jordy being one of them.
Rad, thanks for the insight Mahina!