The best interviews with surfers are the ones that not only reveal something about the subject, but connect to a larger shared experience in surfing and beyond. This year, there were a few conversations in the mag and online that stood out to the staff, whether they captured a watershed moment in surfing or shed light on something deeply personal. Between a world champion, a handful of big-wave legends, an up-and-coming competitor and a surf photographer fighting cancer, there were many moments that gave us pause, made us think about our own surf experiences and about how the ocean can affect our lives in an incredibly profound way. Click the titles of the interviews below to read them in their entirety.

John Florence, Pipeline. Photo: Frieden

JOHN FLORENCE: IN SESSION
He may have won his second world title this year, but John John Florence definitely made his biggest statement in 2016. Between his first world title, an Eddie Aikau Big-Wave Invitational win and another Vans Triple Crown championship, Florence was unstoppable. Just before the 2017 World Tour season got underway, we caught up with the North Shore’s golden boy to find out what it feels like to achieve your dreams, cross off nearly everything on the bucket list and set even higher goals for tomorrow. For Florence, it turns out that life is grand, and only getting grander.

Connor O’Leary. Photo: Frieden

CONNOR O’LEARY: THE ANONYMOUS CONTENDER
Did you have any idea who Conner O’Leary was before the 2017 season? Neither did most surf fans. Turns out this incredible talent from Cronulla, Australia was teaching surf lessons and working at his local surf shop just before winning the entire WQS contest series and becoming a member of competitive surfing’s elite class. As O’Leary describes it, he’s spent his whole life relishing in his role as the underdog, and as important as it is for him to do well in a jersey, he thinks it’s even more so for him to pass on the message to younger surfers that nothing is impossible if they work hard and believe in themselves.

Layer and Dorian, on location in Scotland. Photo: Glaser

SHANE DORIAN AND ALBEE LAYER: RIDERS ON THE SLAB
For his latest surf film, “Proximity,” Taylor Steele paired surfers who shared a similar spark—whether it was a passion for terrifying surf, a shared style, or a competitive hunger—and took them to the far corners of the globe in search of perfect waves. He also kept a recorder going, documenting their conversations along the way. One of the standouts of this little social experiment was a conversation between big-wave hellmen Shane Dorian and Albee Layer, who discussed their love for heavy surf and why they’ll continue chasing it in spite of their innate fears.

Laird Hamilton, pioneering. Photo: Ellis

LAIRD HAMILTON: THE TAKER OF EVERY WAVE
Everyone has a strong opinion about big-wave pioneer Laird Hamilton, and Hamilton knows this better than anyone. The 2017 documentary about his life, “Take Every Wave,” shows Hamilton at his most reflective, discussing the drive that brought him to such great heights in surfing while also alienating him from many of his fellow surfers. We caught up with Hamilton after the release of the film to talk about his achievements, his rough edges and what it’s like to gaze into a cinematic mirror of your life.

San Francisco-based photographer and cancer survivor Sachi Cunningham.

SACHI CUNNINGHAM: ON OVERCOMING CANCER
Sachi Cunningham is a unique figure in surfing for many reasons: She’s one of the most prominent female surf photographers in the world today, she swims in extremely treacherous conditions at San Francisco’s Ocean Beach and she continued to push herself and her photography even while fighting a battle with cancer. Cunningham is more than a survivor, as she says that her bout with cancer has acted as fuel for her surfing and her photography. “That is the real gift of cancer,” she says. “If you can survive it, you realize that life is so beautiful.”

[Top image: Shane Dorian and Albee Layer in Scotland during the filming of “Proximity”]