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Santa Barbara, Ca

I'm a full-time rambler and contract designer with as many skill sets in my quiver as there are plane tickets in my passbook. I've worked in ornamental iron, jigsaw puzzle design, bookmaking, glass engraving, and a variety of other mediums. I'm currently living out of a backpack as I trek my way around the world.

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#HelloTrouble: Wave Vaulting in Vernazza, Italy

Zak Erving

Inagural wave-vaulting competition, circa 2006 (photo courtesy of Lee B. Freeman)

Inagural wave-vaulting competition, circa 2006 (photo courtesy of Lee B. Freeman)

On November 26, Gerber Gear and Matador teamed up to host the #HelloTrouble challenge for ten days, offering adventure bloggers an opportunity to share their Shit!Shit!Shit! moments with the world. This is my entry:

The waterline was eight feet below the edge of the pier, and waves crashed six feet over its top.

Josh C. was the first to jump, a sticks-and-skin figure who miraculously bobbed in the water like a buoy that cuts its own hair, grinning to his ears. A local man swam over to him, jabbering in rapid Italian. Josh laughed and shook his head no I don’t understand you, but this is fun, isn’t it?

The man waited patiently for the next wave, letting himself be thrown upwards to the pier's platform, where he clutched and clawed until the rest of the wave receded, and it was safe to climb out. That, in true Vernazza fashion, was how one made a water-exit.

The rest of us, watching nearby, immediately channeled the birr of boyhood, tore off our pants, and launched off the pier into the whitewater.

We awarded each other for style in the air, and who had the coolest scars at the end of the day

The trick to wave vaulting—in addition to proper selection—is one's position relative to the pier. Being too far away from it at the wave's arrival would leave you to contend with the barnacles near the base during the riptide, while a spot too close would throw you directly into the slab, with most of the wave still bearing down from above.

Unfortunately, I never found the sweet spot. After a few sets and as many missed opportunities, fatigue set in, and I began a defeated sidestroke to the ladder. I was quickly losing my ability to stay above water.

Side-by-side: one successful exit, and one failed attempt

It was then a freak set of waves rolled in, doubling in number and height at once. Sets usually come in two to five waves, but even that rule gets broken: it was at the rift of this upheaval that I experienced pure terror as swell after swell crashed and threw me against the seafloor.

I don’t remember much in terms of pain, but the disorientation—and panic from the lack of oxygen—was undeniable. But as quickly as the fear had rushed in, so also had the inexplicable peace. There was no white light. No voice calling me to it. Only aqua blue and muffled thumps and tiny bubbles tickling my face. It was very quiet, and I was comfortable.

Unexpectedly, there was a break. I surfaced, gasped, and called for help—another odd feeling, if you’ve never had to cry out in desperation. Another wave dunked me, but before the one behind it hit, I saw Tim and Josh standing on the edge, coaching me. Tim dangled a corner of his bloodied towel, and with a quick burst I snatched it out of the air as he pulled me to the ladder. I locked my arms around it as the next wave crashed, unable to peel me from the wall.

Once back safely on the pier, all of my barnacle-wounds opened at once, pooling at my feet in a growing circle of red. I couldn’t help but feel okay, that blood was the only thing demanded of me that day. By that point, Paul had returned from the pharmacy with a few rolls of gauze and hydrogen peroxide, and Tim patched me up nicely.

As the sun set over the Mediterranean, we set out for Monterosso, the final town on the trail. Tim smugly produced glow sticks from his backpack: bounty from the military supply closet he had raided before meeting us in Pisa. He was our hero that day.

I ambled along, proud to be in good company. Proud of my bandages and soon-to-be scars. Proud not only to be alive, but really living.