All Those Lonely Islands

Our favorite book this month was Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot On and Never Will, by Judith Schalansky. Over 130 pages, Schalansky explores the black specks in the middle of our blue world; the really tiny ones like St. Helena, Socorro, Diego Garcia and, of course, Lonely Island. It sat on the coffee table atop an array of our favorite magazines, and we’d take turns studying the maps, hardly looking up from its pages as we talked to our colleagues at their computers.

“There’s gotta be waves there…Has anyone ever surfed Clipperton Atoll?...Hey — can you Google ‘Macquarie Island’ and see if there’s an airport there? That place must cop so much swell…”

Just thumbing through this abridged island archive gave us a sense of adventure, like we were the first ones to ever hear of Possession Island. Is that place holding? Maybe we should go there and “discover” it for the surfing masses. “Look at those islands,” we thought. They’re just sitting out there, all alone and exposed to swell. Maybe a generous reef formation would bend that swell into our personal Trestles or Pipeline. Nobody around. Wave after wave just waiting for someone to sit inside of it, or crack its lip.

“[Islands] become footnotes to the mainland,” Schalansky writes, “expendable to an extent, but also disproportionally more interesting.”

Forget the mainland. If you can drive there it’s already blown out. Islands are where surfers thrive. You just have to have the means, the resolve and the guts to fly or float there. To be a pioneer. Or at least an adventurer.

Associate photo editor Jimmy Wilson did some pioneering for this issue. He saw an island that looked just right, did some recon work, saw a swell, booked a boat and went. I honestly can’t even tell you the name of the place. But they sailed. They searched. They found waves and let the open ocean saturate their minds, as you’ll read in Dane Gudauskas’ story, “Lava Lamp Brick of Swiss Cheese Deliciousness” on Pg. 80. They didn’t uncover Trestles or Pipeline. But they named waves for which we’d trade our home breaks, and they surfed alone. All alone.

It’s the draw of seclusion that brings out the inner-Magellan in all of us. And while we’re aware of the downsides of island life: the isolation and disconnect, the high price tag and the sunburn, we can’t stop searching for that escape. So we go, and we get restless and itchy. We get “island fever” and return to the mainland. We’re instantly cured and then hit by amnesia, island fever’s most prominent side effect. Gone are all the reasons that kept us from moving to Hawaii, Fiji or some Caribbean cay. We forget the restlessness, because we’re distracted by some speck on a map that we’ve never seen before. Lonely Island — maybe that place has waves. —Taylor Paul

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