I grew up with an atlas in my hand. A globe on the shelf. Friends who travelled, stories of safaris in Zimbabwe, friends who went through the Berlin Wall, Māori hunting weapons hanging in the hallways.
Geography was my favourite lesson, there was always something mystical about an atlas for me and I spent hours studying the pages inside. But as children we never left the British Isles. I was 18 when I boarded a plane for the first time. On the way to Fuerteventura, I held my armrest tightly and felt like Shackleton on his way to Antarctica.
Sixteen years later, I've lost count of the places I've been, and I dread to think of my own carbon footprint. Fergal Smith, who I stayed with in Ireland, has just stopped all air travel for these reasons - a difficult decision for a professional surfer whose livelihood depends on sponsors paying him to chase waves across the globe. He's considering buying a new boat while I'm there and is talking about a train trip through Europe and Russia. I have the feeling that for Fergal, the closing of the plane door means the opening of many even more exciting doors.
On Lanzarote, I visited Chiara and Fico, the owners of the boutique hotel La Jallo, who grow their own vegetables in the unforgiving lava landscape to feed their guests. Chiara tells me how nice it is to harvest the fruit, and her joy is obvious as she takes a few eggs from the chicken coop. It's the simple things that make all the difference. The surf in Lanzarote has been pumping and Jose MariaCabrera, my host, has shown me some fantastic spots and I have seen Lanazote from a side I never expected.
A far cry from the package holiday hell you hear about, or the gnarly locals the surf media warn about. I guess a smile goes a long way, and although I was reluctant to give waves away for free, I was told where to paddle out, I was called into the waves and guided in when I cracked my head open on a big day.
In the Faroe Islands we got the full force of the ocean, the climate is pyrotechnically unstable and I can't begin to describe the rawness of the elements that the islands face on a daily basis. It's an incredible place, and we were all lucky enough to find fun, monochrome barrels tended by Arctic storms on deserted beaches next to steeply sloping cliffs. The Faroe Islands are not for the faint-hearted - the starting gate to this adventure.
Island communities may seem full of strange customs and sometimes even backward, but surrounded by monotonous, impassable walls of the omnipresent sea, it can seem like a prison, and islanders have to be skillful and frugal to survive. It is obvious that sustainability and forward thinking are key. Fergalshares watched a film with me called The Coconut Revolution, an incredible story about the people of Bougainville Island, who were cut off from the world by Papa New Guinea and Australia when they refused to accept the advances of a mining company and the destruction of the landscape. Since 1990, despite a naval blockade, they have lived almost entirely on coconuts - powering cars, curing diseases and even producing electricity - all from the humble fruit.
This project is about visiting corners of the Atlantic that fascinate me, corners I've always wanted to visit, islands I discovered as a teenager on these atlases, I've deliberately chosen corners I haven't been to yet. We'll see how it turns out, but so far, so good. I've met incredible people, been told incredible stories and seen incredible waves.
Chiara, overlooking her vegetable garden and looking at the sea, sums it up: "Islanders always look at the sea, for an islander the sea means freedom, we have a different perspective".
Further information: www.instagram.com/chrismcclean