300 days of desert island solitude

Xavier Rosset

Xavier Rosset is sitting outside his rustic chalet in the Swiss mountains, but his mind is 18,000km away.

This content was published on August 29, 2008 minutes

After six years in the limelight as a champion snowboarder, he has decided to go back to basics and try surviving on a desert island in the South Pacific for ten months. His destination: Tofua Island, several plane rides and one long boat trip from Switzerland.

Virtually unpopulated, this 60 sq km island lies 1,600km from New Zealand and has a smoking volcano, a 20 metre-wide rocky shoreline and a large crater lake. Wild boar roam and the vegetation is so thick that a machete is needed while walking.

It will be Rosset's base from September in a solo adventure that he hopes will teach him to live off the land and escape the trappings of materialism.

"I wanted to be totally isolated, to live by myself, to form my own opinions and to make time. I think people don't make time in their lives anymore," he told swissinfo while preparing for the trip at his home in Verbier.

"Most people go to cities because the money is much better. I wanted to go the opposite way to show them something different. My goal is not to judge but just to experience something and share it with others."

The only contents of his rucksack will be a machete, a knife, a first-aid kit and equipment for sending weekly video updates to his website.

"I think it's nice to show people that there are many different ways of life and it's important to know that we can choose the way we want to live," he said.

Survival skills

Part of the liberating experience for the 32-year-old will be dispensing with clothes.

"The big freedom for humans is being naked. I think most of the time I will be naked or wearing a sarong. I will have no limits there," he said.

"Everything you learn from the age of five is to enable you to live in this system. When I go [to Tofua Island], most of the things I have learnt will not help me. I have to switch off and learn new things, and I think that will be very interesting."

His first challenge will be learning the basics of survival, such as starting fires, storing rainwater, building shelter and catching food. His skills will be put to the test within weeks when the six-month rain and hurricane season starts.

His ten-month diet will consist of fish, the occasional boar, rat or bird, bananas, mangos, coconuts and tried-and-tested plants. He has gained 14kg in weight in case food is scarce at the start.

Mental challenge

Rosset chose the island of Tofua after gaining the blessing of the governing Tongan authorities, which see Rosset's trip as advertising for the area.

"People say Tongans are the happiest people in the world," he said. "Most of them don't work, if they need food they fish. They have a totally different way of life to what we have here. They all smile. But when I go to Geneva or Bern at 8am, I don't see many people smiling."

A volcano eruption on Tofua in 1960 scared off all but 15 occasional farmers. Rosset has made one trip there to scope out if he could live off the land for ten months.

Despite having never spent more than two weeks on his own, he is set on conquering all the expected mental and emotional hurdles.

"If you are at peace with yourself, I think you can live in many different situations. For me I know there are going to be some very hard moments because I am leaving my girlfriend, my sister, my parents behind. But I know that this experience has a beginning and an end," he explained.

"I don't think I'll go crazy because I'm like a kid. I like to discover all the time. In ten months I have just enough time to see all of the island."

Green dream

No stranger to fear, Rosset is one of the top-five freeriding snowboarders in the world and has mastered some of the globe's highest and steepest mountain slopes.

"We all have limits – 99.9 per cent of people don't know what these limits are because they work at a desk, get a big belly and the limits are going up 50 stairs without stopping," he said.

"You find your limits and if you work at it, you can slowly push them. I have been snowboarding for 20 years now but an island's a totally different experience. I will have to discover everything."

He says the desert island project combines his dream of adventure with his firm belief of living in harmony with the environment, by aiming to produce no waste during his time there.

"It's really important for me to show that I can live for 300 days without causing pollution. But mainly I am doing it because I think it is nice to realise our dreams and this is one of mine."

Rosset sets off on Tuesday. His progress can be tracked on his website.

swissinfo, Jessica Dacey in Verbier


Satellite antenna
Video camera
Solar panel
First-aid kit with antibiotics and disinfectant.

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Tofua is one of a cluster of 169 islands governed by Tonga in the South Pacific. It is located around 80km from the island of Tonga and around 1,600km from New Zealand.

It has an active volcano which erupted most recently in 1960, forcing almost all of its inhabitants to flee. It is now used by around 15 farmers of the kava plant, used for a drink export.

The island has an inner crater lake, the surface of which is around 350 metres above sea level and 250 metres deep. It does not contain fish and is not drinkable.

Tofua Island is covered mainly by grasses that are around two metres high. Using a machete to cut the grass, one can cover 500 metres per hour. It is a ten-hour walk from the edge of the island to the lake. Overall elevation is 515 metres.

The mutiny on the Royal Navy ship Bounty is believed to have taken place around 30 nautical miles from Tofua in 1789. The mutiny was led against the captain, William Bligh, who was cast adrift in a small open boat with 18 loyalists and took refuge on the island.

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