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Best Longreads of 2016

The year's five best longform features from the pages of SURFER Magazine

The Other North Shore [Issue 57.8]

At SURFER, we’re fortunate enough to work with some incredibly talented writers, capable of painting vivid pictures of obscure surf scenes, and taking us along for the ride as they explore coastal fringes. Oddly enough, the most exotic surf zone one of our writers showed us in 2016 may have been smack dab in the middle of America, without an ocean in sight. “The Other North Shore,” written by features editor Justin Housman, takes us to phenomenal waves and an enthralling surf culture in one of the last places most would think to look—Duluth, Minnesota. The label “hardcore” gets thrown around a lot in the surf world, but Housman would argue that you don’t know the meaning of the word until you’ve seen midwesterners drive day and night to greet a fleeting swell, trudge through the snow in thick neoprene, and paddle out in 35-degree water. If you’re wondering how that could possibly be worthwhile, then you might want to click here to read the story, and bask in the glory of honest-to-god barrels along the shores of Lake Superior.

Alex Gray, enjoying a miraculous freshwater cylinder. Photo: Ellis
Alex Gray, enjoying a miraculous freshwater cylinder. Photo: Ellis

Contagion Present [Issue 57.8]

Raise your hand if you’ve ever paddled out at your local break shortly after a rain, and found yourself bedridden with some kind of illness shortly thereafter. Is that everyone? Yeah, I thought so. In “Contagion Present,” senior writer Kimball Taylor goes looking for the root of San Diego’s surf-borne ailments, and discovers that even the most pristine-looking lineups aren’t free of dangerous pathogens. Of all the stories we published in 2016, this one may be the most difficult to read, but it also may be the most important. As surfers, we need to know about the risks we take surfing in contaminated water, especially if that knowledge helps us take collective action to mitigate the problem. Click here to find out what invisible dangers lie just below the surface.

Even the most pristine lineups may have dangerous pathogens just below the surface. Photo: Cozad/A-frame
Even the most pristine lineups may have dangerous pathogens just below the surface. Photo: Cozad/A-frame

Faces of Andy [Issue 57.8]

Surfers all around the world loved Andy Irons, partly because we felt like we knew him. But in senior writer Sean Doherty’s piece, “Faces of Andy,” we realize that there were many complex and even contradictory sides to Irons. He was at once bulletproof and vulnerable, hotheaded and caring, a fast-living rockstar and a man who longed for the simple life. In the years since his passing, we still long to make sense of one of surfing’s most senseless tragedies, and Doherty goes looking for answers in the last year of Irons’ life. Click here to read about those final months, and the nuances that made Irons one of the most dynamic individuals to ever set foot on a surfboard.

The late, great Andy Irons, speeding through Jeffreys Bay. Photo: Ellis
The late, great Andy Irons, speeding through Jeffreys Bay. Photo: Ellis

Brave New Coral [Issue 57.10]

One of the many depressing realities of climate change is the effect it’s having on coral reefs around the world, where bleaching events are destroying delicate ecosystems, and possibly endangering some of our favorite reef breaks in the process. Luckily, associate editor Ashtyn Douglas found a silver lining in her piece, “Brave New Coral,” which is about one woman’s goal to create corals that will endure the warmer, more acidic oceans of tomorrow. Douglas takes us into the laboratory of Hawaii-based coral researcher Ruth Gates, who believes that since human activity got the world’s corals into this mess, it will take human creativity to get them out. Click here to read a story that may seem like science fiction, but it shows the very real hope for the reef systems of the world, upon which countless organisms rely—surfers included.

An up-close look at living coral, which is responsible for the formation of countless waves around the globe. Photo: Thouard
An up-close look at living coral, which is responsible for the formation of countless waves around the globe. Photo: Thouard


The Good Samaritan [Issue 57.11]

Earlier this year, senior writer Kimball Taylor took a journey to Papua New Guinea to profile a surfer with a very unusual story. “The Good Samaritan” focuses on Mark Palm, a surfer from Santa Cruz who became a medevac pilot in rural Papua New Guinea, an area where violent eruptions of tribal violence are common, and medical facilities are extremely difficult to reach. Since moving to Papua New Guinea, Palm has seen everything from machete wounds to people impaled by spears, but he’s also seen some of the most pristine waves you could ever hope to find. In the feature, we see the tightrope that Palm walks as he tries to find a balance between lifesaving and a surfing life. Click here to read about Palm and the jungled coastline where tragedy and beauty exist side by side.

Mark Palm, medevac pilot and cofounder of Samaritan Aviation, in one of his favorite Papua New Guinea lineups. Photo: Chachi
Mark Palm, medevac pilot and cofounder of Samaritan Aviation, in one of his favorite Papua New Guinea lineups. Photo: Chachi