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Get to know: Maddie Anzivino

Grieving the loss of her mother, North Shore lifeguard Maddie Anzivino found renewal in big-wave surfing.
By Jen See
9 min readPublished on
Get to know the women competing in Red Bull Magnitude. In this series, we will introduce a few of the daring women who chase big waves around the world. This time, we meet North Shore lifeguard Maddie Anzivino, who found solace in surfing big waves.
Driving home from the beach one summer day, Maddie Anzivino and her sister Natalie spotted a big, blue surfboard in a trashcan. Already obsessed with surfing, they took it home with them. Then 11, Anzivino had no idea how to surf. “Someone who was a surfer told us it was a pretty good surfboard for finding it in a trashcan,” she says. The two sisters took the board to the beach where they learned it needed wax. Determined, they spent hours trying to stand on that blue board.
Maddie Anzivino at Red Bull Magnitude 2023 at Waimea Bay, Oahu

Maddie Anzivino at Red Bull Magnitude 2023 at Waimea Bay, Oahu

© Christa Funk / Red Bull Content Pool

Now 30, Anzivino brings that same focus to big-wave surfing. Four years ago she began surfing bigger waves to escape her grief over her mother’s death. To her surprise, big-wave surfing brought Anzivino community, connection, and joy. Since then, she’s ridden some of her best waves at Waimea Bay where she works as a lifeguard. After a shoulder injury threatened to derail her, Anzivino recovered her confidence this winter and big-wave surfing cast its spell on her all over again.
“It’s just the feeling of being on a big wave,” she says. “It’s one thing to sit out there and watch it, but once you paddle in and catch the biggest wave you’ve ever caught, there’s no other feeling.”

Garage Band Family

Growing up in Torrance, California, Anzivino and her sister rode their bikes to the beach every day during the summer. Her parents divorced when she was eight years old, and she and Natalie lived with their mom Shelly. “After our parents divorced, we moved around a little bit,” she says. “I felt like I was a new kid a lot, and it was really hard to make friends.” Shelly and her two daughters shared a small two-bedroom, and she worked full-time first as a nurse-practitioner, then as an aesthetician.
“When I talk about it, it sounds like I come from this rich family,” Anzivino says. “But we lived in a small place and we didn’t have much money. My mom worked full-time trying to make ends meet.”
That left Anzivino and her sister on their own much of the time. Surfing captured their imaginations from an early age, and Natalie took a few lessons. With her sister’s help and a longboard borrowed from a friendly surf shop owner, Anzivino soon learned. By the time she was 12, Anzivino had become a regular at the Manhattan Beach pier. She had also found a uniquely welcoming community. “It was kind of this garage band family,” she says.
Maddie Anzivino during Red Bull Magnitude 2023 at Waimea Bay, Oahu, Hawaii

Maddie Anzivino during Red Bull Magnitude 2023 at Waimea Bay, Oahu, Hawaii

© Brian Bielmann / Red Bull Content Pool

The people Anzivino met in the shadow of the pier came from every kind of background. “Everybody had some struggle at home, and we all just adopted each other,” she says. At school, Anzivino often felt judged for her parents’ divorce and her worn clothing. “We were just kids from a broken family, and we didn’t have much.” In the water, she found an acceptance that eluded her on land. The other surfers helped the two sisters learn how to read the conditions and to avoid the afternoon onshore winds. “I found somewhere I belonged.”
After graduating from South High School, Anzivino joined the sailing team at CSU-Channel Islands. Sailing was entirely new to her, but it offered another way to explore the ocean. “There’s something I love about being offshore,” she says. “Once you’re in the water, and you’re offshore, all your problems are just left on land.” Sailing also took her to Hawaii after she transferred to UH-Manoa in 2012. The warm water and surf kept her there.

From Darkness to Light

Despite her love for surfing, Anzivino never paddled out on Hawaii’s biggest days. That changed when her mother died unexpectedly in 2018. Sad and lost, Anzivino searched for an outlet for her grief. On land, she struggled with suicidal thoughts. “I hated my life when my mom’s death was happening, when it was fresh and I was grieving over it,” she says. “When you lose someone, it’s really hard.” Anzivino describes it as a dark time when nothing felt right to her.
She turned to the ocean, where so often in her life, she’d found escape and solace. “I wanted to be in the water, and I didn’t want to be on land,” she says. Before, she would watch from the beach as her friends paddled out on the bigger days. Now she joined them. It scared her. But the fear Anzivino felt as she paddled out beyond her comfort zone also snapped life back into perspective for her.
“It made me appreciate my sister and the people who were in the life,” she says. “Just thinking like, ‘I can’t die right now, because I have to be there for my sister.’”
Anzivino rode her first 20-foot faces at Himalayas. A friend lent her a board and took her out to Waimea where she caught her first waves in 20-foot conditions. “I just remember it being these really stormy, empty days when there was no one else out there,” she says. She rode her first wave at Waimea together with her friend, and she still remembers the joy it brought her. “I was just smiling really big, and he was on the wave, too, just cheering me on.”
That feeling inspired Anzivino to keep paddling out. She also found a new community, just as she had as a kid back in Manhattan Beach. “Moving to Oahu, it was difficult to make friends,” she says. “Once I started surfing Waimea, I started meeting people.” Competing in Red Bull Magnitude has only increased those feelings of connection for Anzivino. Magnitude has allowed her to meet women from all over the world who share her passion for big-wave surfing.
“Big wave surfing has brought me to a really good place in life,” she says. “Every girl who surfs big waves is in it for the same reason — we just love that feeling. Big-wave surfing has brought me so much happiness.”

Renewed Confidence

In January 2023, Anzivino watched from the beach as her coworker Luke Shepardson won the prestigious Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational at Waimea Bay. Anzivino has worked as a lifeguard for the past four years. Viewing Waimea from the lifeguard stand has deepened Anzivino’s connection with the famous break.“You look at the water in a different way,” she says. Rescuing someone in big surf is a much different experience from surfing it herself. It’s also incredibly rewarding.

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Maddie Anzivino


“I’ve had rescues where you can just see on someone’s face how terrified they are,” she says. “We get to the beach, and they just start crying. Being able to use my water knowledge to bring someone to safety feels so good.”
The past few winters, Anzivino has struggled with a shoulder injury that’s held her back from charging bigger swells. In April 2022 she had surgery to repair the joint that she first dislocated in 2019. Initially, she had ignored it in the hope it was a one-time injury. “Once it came out a second time, I was really skittish,” she says. Anzivino worried that her shoulder would dislocate underwater and leave her unable to surface. She avoided the bigger waves she’d learned to love.
The injury lingered in her memory this winter and rattled her confidence. “When you injure yourself, it’s really hard to get back out there.” Watching Shepardson calmly navigate some of the biggest waves Waimea had seen in years shifted her perspective. “Just watching somebody so low-key, just this underdog, who is a lifeguard on duty, take home The Eddie — it was so inspiring,” she says. Her hunger sharpened.

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Maddie Anzivino


The day after The Eddie, Red Bull called Magnitude on. Still feeling the jolt of happiness from watching Shepardson’s dream day, Anzivino paddled out at Waimea. She didn’t expect much from the session, but once in the lineup, it all came together for her. “My head was just in a good place,” she says. That day Anzivino rode her best wave after two seasons of frustration. It wasn’t her biggest ever, but the experience helped her push past the doubts her injury had created in her.
“I started reminding myself what got me into big-wave surfing in the first place,” she says. “I was thinking about my mom and about Luke Shepardson, and I ended up getting a pretty decent wave. I felt so good that day.”

New Friends, New Adventures

Looking ahead, Anzivino hopes to explore different big-wave lineups. She has paddled out at Pe’ahi a few times, but has yet to catch a wave there. Anzivino has a deep respect for the surfers who have mastered Pe’ahi’s tricky lineup. The swell lines come in comparatively straight at Waimea, but the reef at Pe’ahi creates a horseshoe shaped wave that’s difficult to read. “Pe’ahi has multiple peaks and it never looks like you’re going to make it,” says Anzivino.
Andrea Moller and Maddie Anzivino pre-surf at Red Bull Magnitude at Jaws

Andrea Moller and Maddie Anzivino pre-surf at Red Bull Magnitude at Jaws

© Christa Funk / Red Bull Content Pool

Anzivino also has her sights set on Todos Santo and Mavericks. “I feel like once you start traveling and surfing waves that aren’t your regular spot, that’s when you improve,” she says. Thanks to Magnitude, she has met women who know those lineups and can introduce her to new waves around the world. “I’ve built all these connections and made so many friends,” she says. “There are a lot of girls who are surfing big waves.”
And unexpectedly, Anzivino is one of them. Grieving the loss of her mother, Anzivino found renewal in the ocean. She never imagined she’d become a big-wave surfer, but by now, it has become central to who she is and to what drives her. Big-wave surfing has opened the way to new friendships and new experiences. Sliding down the face on that first wave at Waimea, Anzivino found an unforgettable feeling. Now, she can’t wait to do it all over again.
“The days you don’t catch anything, it can feel so defeating and frustrating and make you want to give up,” she says. “But you have to keep going. If you keep going, eventually you’ll find your dream wave.”