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Skateboarder Danny Way still trying to ramp up his legend

The Conversation

For the skateboarding superstar, the subject of the new documentary 'Waiting for Lightning,' his own world records are challenging him to do even better.

December 08, 2012|By Irene Lacher, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • Danny Way is the subject of a new film called "Waiting for Lightning," and the film chronicles his success in the extreme sports world of skateboarding as well as the high and low moments he encounters along the way.
Danny Way is the subject of a new film called "Waiting for Lightning,"… (Kirk McKoy, Los Angeles…)

Skateboard legend Danny Way is the subject of a new documentary, "Waiting for Lightning" by Jake Rosenberg, which follows his career from childhood to a spectacular 2005 jump over the Great Wall of China. The native Californian based in Encinitas is known for imagining and executing extraordinary jumps, such as his 2008 "bomb drop" from a helicopter onto a ramp.

The documentary is structured around your jump over the Great Wall of China. How long had you had that dream and what prompted it?

I had a dream of doing something on a grand scale. I had for a few years been looking for something special to jump, because I figured out a new ramp design that would allow me to go bigger than I had ever gone. I went to China a couple of times on business, exploring factories to build some skateboarding parts and flew over the Great Wall of China on one of my trips. Also on Air China, in the airline magazine there were a couple of pictures of the wall, and it just came to me: How obscure would that be to jump the Great Wall?

It was an interesting cultural experience as well. I thought, China being so populated with so many kids, skateboarding is a very inexpensive hobby for kids to get into. Since that jump there's been quite a bit of movement on that level in China — the world's biggest concrete skate park is built in China now.

What were you thinking when you stood on top of the megaramp, which was how many feet high?

The top of that tower is 10 stories, it's 100 feet. And it feels a lot taller when you're standing on top of it. It's not a very pleasant place to hang out for very long.

Why did you jump a second time after you pulled it off the first time?

I actually did it five times. We only showed it twice. But I spent a lot of time putting that together, and there was a lot of money that went into that, and I just couldn't stand building something so grand for two runs.

How much did it cost to build it?

$500,000. These structures definitely have a large price tag, and that's a bit of a challenge with my career because I've got to raise money to do these things.

Do you have an absence of fear or do you do this in spite of your fear?

You definitely don't have an absence of fear. Fear is, I think, the one thing that keeps me in check and alive. I just think that some people get a little too intimidated by fear too quickly. You have to be real with the consequences but not let the fear intimidate you from overcoming the challenge.

Why didn't becoming a father make you more risk-averse?

I've been on this path since I was a little kid, so I don't think anyone expects me to steer off the path I'm on. I'm not a daredevil or a stuntman. I'm taking calculated risks, and I have a lot of experience with what I do.

The film talks about your childhood in a broken home and your mom at that time being drug-addicted and having violent boyfriends. What did skateboarding do for you in that landscape?

Skateboarding gave me a sense of identity. It gave me a place to express my emotions and creativity. It gave me a community of friends that really was my strength through a lot of my childhood.

Apart from money, because skateboarding has made you wealthy, what do you get out of it now?

I'm always striving to find that feeling that attracted me to skateboarding when I first found it, which is the freedom of being able to create something within my head and then go make it a reality.

What innovations are you contemplating now, something that people said couldn't be done, but you're going to do it?

I have a few world records that I would like to reset in the next year or two. And I'd like to come up with a new ramp design that allows me to take it to the next level. I think I've figured that out, I've just got to get it built.

Specifically, which world records of your own are you trying to surpass?

For the high air, which is 231/2 feet above the deck of the ramp. And then the distance record [for a jump between ramps] is 79 feet. I'd like to break 100 feet here soon just to get it done before I'm too old to do it.

You're 38 now. How long do you think you can do this?

I've been very abusive to my body physically, but I've also been very smart in the sense that I'm taking care of myself with diet and my training. I'm not trying to be the oldest guy out there, but I definitely don't want to stop before I've accomplished some of these things on my list.

You've had 13 operations?

Sixteen now.

Do you still have pain from any of your injuries?

Absolutely. I have recurring injuries, I have injuries that healed the best they could, but they're not perfect. My ankle from jumping the Great Wall has been a nonstop problem since. I've had four surgeries on it, and it still bothers me all the time. I've got my name on the Wall there, but the Wall has definitely got its name on me too.

Do you have any regrets about what this has done to your body?

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