man stood on rock in sea with pentire point in the background on a summer evening 

Few things capture the imagination like an island.  Ever since man has been able to cross water we have had a fascination with islands; large, small, sandy with a lone palm tree standing in the centre, volcanic and covered in dense jungle or a coral atoll.  We are captivated by them all. 


“My haunting passion was the island. I ransacked libraries for the literature of Islands, the more desolate they were the better I was pleased. I pored over great maps till Polynesia and Melanesia were more familiar than the geography of the county in which I lived. I found that men who had written of Utopia and other impossible things were as mad as I was about Islands, and I loved them all and read their books over and over again. I knew the Hebrides by heart, I was at home in the archipelagoes of the Pacific, I could thread my way through among the smallest groups of the Indies, East and West, and a navigator of the Cyclades might almost have used me for a pilot. Columbus, Magellan, Drake, Dampier, Anson, Cook - these were the names of my familiar spirits; and had I not sailed with Odysseus of many devices over leagues and leagues of the the unharvested seas? It was always the little islands I loved the best, and if they were not only small but remote, like St.Kilda, Kerguelen, or Juan Fernandez, so that the mariner shipwrecked on their shores might have reasonable chance of being unrescued for years, I rejoiced like the man who discovered a treasure hid in a field.”

L.P. Jacks - Among the Idol Makers 

 There are thousands of islands on the planet. Trying to find out just how many depends on how you define an island and how you categorize them; The Vikings would only class land as an island if they could pass a ship with a rudder between it and the mainland, whilst the 1861 Scottish census defined an island as “an area of land surrounded by water and inhabited by man, and where at least one sheep can graze.  We have used them as prisons, sites of holy pilgrimage, or private retreats for the rich and famous, to name but a few.  However you define an island, though, and whatever role it plays, there is no questioning the allure that they hold for many of us. 

bow of a boat approaching a desert island by surf explore

The Surf Explore team approaching a classic "Desert Island".  Emi Cataldi wears the Blighty short in Club Stripe/Bolt.

 Unlike many other “destinations”, an island has a clearly defined natural boundary; it offers solitude, defence, or a sense of ownership, depending on what it is that you seek.  They are miniature worlds condensed into an area that we can see, understand and seek mastery over.  An island is simply a piece of land surrounded by water, but perhaps their individuality and isolation is a reflection of us as human beings.  John Donne famously wrote, “no man is an island”, but perhaps he realised that many people see themselves that way, and therefore see some reflection of them in an island. 

tavarua island in fiji 

When we think of an island, it’s most likely a habitable and manageably small – the sort that you could walk around easily and get to know in fine detail.  In fact, it’s probably a miniature paradise.  They inhabit our imagination because they are the subject of so many legends and enduring stories from Atlantis, through the Odyssey, to Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island and The Beach.  Any and all of these, in addition to an Atlas, fuel day dreams and stoke wanderlust in islomaniacs and send us off in search of islands to swim out to, beach a boat on, or fly into for a week or two’s holiday.   

chris mcclean paddling an otter wooden surfboard with a tropical island in the background in the maldives 

Surf filmmaker Chris McClean paddling past a palm-studded atoll in the Maldives, wearing the Endangered Garden Burgh shorts in black

 George Orwell argued that we need solitude, creative work, and a sense of wonder as much as warmth, society, leisure, comfort and security, and that “man only stays human by preserving large patches of simplicity in his life.”  It would appear that it is often much easier to gain and maintain this simplicity on an island than on a comparatively sized chunk of continental land (Thurston Clarke).

  Simply put, we are more human when on an island.


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