One of the best parts of our jobs here at SURFER is talking to the men and women who draw unusual lines across waves and through life. We get to climb inside their heads for a while and find out what makes them tick, and throughout 2016, we had memorable discussions with legendary surfers, shapers, filmers, photographers, and innovators. The following five Q&As are some of the conversations that captivated us most this year.

Laughing It Off [Issue 57.3]

When editor Todd Prodanovich interviewed surfing’s funnyman Sterling Spencer about his recent mockumentary surf film Gold, he wasn’t expecting the conversation to take the route it did. After discussing what went into making the hilarious movie (i.e. dressing up as Kelly Slater, casting Bob Saget as his shaper, and eating a stack of banana pancakes with Jack Johnson), Spencer opened up about his longtime struggle with anxiety and depression. It was a side of the Gulf Coast comedian that the surf world hadn’t seen before, but we’re glad he showed us. Click here to read more about Spencer’s battle with depression and how he used humor to cope with the hard times throughout his life.

Photo: Soderlind

Sterling Spencer’s strange sense of humor has likely saved his life. Photo: Soderlind

Man-Made [Issue 57.3]

After Kelly Slater nearly broke the Internet this year revealing his mind-bogglingly perfect wave pool, we immediately got in touch with the man. We had a lot of questions. After all, it’s not every day we see viral videos of immaculately shaped artificial tubes grind forever and ever at the command of a machine. When Slater explained how he got involved in the design, how the hell the wave-producing contraption works, and what it feels like to ride it, we were even more amazed at the man-made work of art. Check out our interview with Slater here.

Photo: Glaser

The face says it all. Kelly Slater, clearly impressed with his new toy. Photo: Glaser

The Survivor [Issue 57.4]

Senior writer Sean Doherty sat down with Bruce Irons four years ago in Tahiti for a Q&A, not long after his brother’s death. Irons seemed lost then, not sure how to best handle Andy’s passing. Doherty did a follow-up interview with Irons this year, and throughout the conversation, it becomes clear that much has changed over the years. Click here to see how, with the passing of time, Irons learned how to deal with the loss of his brother and how he’s still surfing as good as ever.

Photo: Noyle

Irons has struggled to find the flame that went out the day his brother died. But if his surfing on the North Shore this season was any indication, the worst is behind him. Photo: Noyle

Once More Unto the Breach [Issue 57.6]

Few workaday surfers can truly comprehend what it’s like to be someone who can look at 30-foot sets rolling through a lineup and still think it’s a good idea to paddle out. That’s why interviews with big-wave surfers are so intriguing. We’re able to ask and find out what goes through their brain when they stroke into house-sized waves. When features editor Justin Housman sat down with the hard-charging Greg Long the day after the Titans of Mavericks event, Long opened up about big-wave contests, pushing the limits, and his close encounter with death. Back in 2012, Long nearly drowned on a massive day at Cortes Bank, an experience that would leave most people shaken and doubting their choice in hobbies. Click here to see how he dealt with that event and how it changed his viewpoint of big-wave surfing forever.

Photo: Ellis

There's no rest for the big-wave elite, and Long finds himself chasing plenty of XXL swells from Maui to Mavericks (pictured here) and beyond, often over consecutive days. Photo: Stacy

The Ember In The Ashes [Issue 57.11]

CJ Nelson is one of the greatest noseriders of all time. You might remember his section in Thomas Campbell’s 2002 flick Sprout, where Nelson is seen gliding gracefully across clean Scorpion Bay peelers. You also might remember him as longboarding’s bad boy, whose predilection for partying nearly destroyed his natural talent and his life. But after he lost his father to cancer in 2012, Nelson quit drinking and turned his life around. Reinventing yourself is one of the most difficult things a person can do, but Nelson has found a second chance at life and at surfing. Click here to see Nelson talk about his past, how he got sober, and how he’s more in love with surfing than ever before.

Photo: Bevan

CJ Nelson, still a little bit of punk in his style. Photo: Bevan