Waiting For Lightning, the new documentary based all around Danny Way's insane life on and off his board, screened to a packed house in LA last week. Fresh off a filming mission in Hawaii to once again redefine the concept of "Mega," we caught up with quite possibly the gnarliest skater alive on the background of the film, as well as how he goes about pushing the limits of what's truly possible on a skateboard. And from the sound of it, it seems like he's not willing to stop until he straight up self-destructs—which, to be honest, would've happened to any other human years ago.
Words by Kevin Duffel
How'd the Waiting For Lightning documentary come to be?
To be honest with you, I'm always trying to come up with creative ways to get financial resources to experiment with building new structures to skateboard on. So that was my main motivation for when I originally got inspired to do this, but I felt like also there's a lot of history and heritage in the stuff we've done together—DC and myself—and it would be nice to showcase some of that stuff. I think a lot of people who are involved with skateboarding today don't know the gist of some of the stuff that's gone down. So it's also cool to retrospect some of those things—to refresh people's minds. But at the same time, we're also doing something new to continue with what people's expectations are of me and what I do on my skateboard.
The film really focuses on your internal struggles. Why focus on that rather than just your skateboarding?
I have a fan base that has been observing my skate accomplishments my whole career. So I think the idea with this movie was just to transcend beyond skateboarding and to reach a bigger audience. My story has some unique twists in it that a lot of general people who don't understand skateboarding can still relate to. So I think the goal with this film was to not make a traditional skate video—it's too obvious and expected. It's just that skateboarding happens to be the foundation that stabilizes myself through all of the other things that are happening.
The film heavily focuses on you airing over the Great Wall Of China, and kind of leads up to that. Do you feel like that was your biggest accomplishment or contribution to skateboarding so far?
Well it has the biggest message in many ways—there's a lot of hidden secrets in that, that when you hear the story told correctly, you'll understand some of the challenges and dynamics that went into it. And it's the culmination of a lot of the things I had to go through in order to get to that point, so it's the peak of the movie. I'm proud to give the world an opportunity to look beyond my skateboarding, and into my life a little bit. And hopefully some of the things I've gone through will inspire somebody else to make similar decisions and experience similar moments that I had, and to adapt to things in the moment as well. I don't think if it was a retrospect of everything I've done, it'd be that intriguing. So China isn't so much like, "This is the biggest accomplishment I've made, and this is what it's all about." The movie leaves you realizing that there's much more to the story, but this just happens to be the perfect opportunity to bring this movie to the pinnacle.
When that biker died a couple days before you aired over the Great Wall, it kind of made me wonder—with all these giant stunts, or giant ramps that you're building in your mind, there's so much hype around it and you've spent so much time working it up—do you ever get worried or want to back out when stuff like that happens?
To be honest, I know what I'm capable of doing. I'm not really looking at somebody else's motivation to do something. The motivation that they used to do what they did really has no relation to what I do at all, because I don't know anything about that guy's background, how long he's been riding bikes for, how much experience he had—all those things could cause that to happen. I just knew what I was capable of doing, and I really didn't look at that as a gauge or benchmark to go off of at all. That's the last thing I'd want to do. After I saw the video footage of it, I was like, "Wow, I can't believe the guy even made it that far, to be honest."
So you're pretty confident when you're up there and you're about to drop in? You've pretty much figured it all out as far as how much speed you need, and what you really have to do?
Absolutely. Like I said, I'm not trying to look at what that guy did on a bike and get anything out of it at all, other than the fact that it happened, and people talked about it, and I had to listen to it and explain to other people, "Yeah, he might have made a mistake and died, but it really has nothing to do with what I did there." And it might have been on the same obstacle that we were flying over, but riding a bike and a skateboard—and my experiences with building ramps, and his background of riding bikes and experience building ramps—is night and day probably.
I know you've had some terrible life threatening injuries over the years. How do you keep those worries out of your mind and keep pushing it?
I think about injury all the time because I have so many of them so often. So my biggest fear is when that's going to happen next, and what am I going to do, and how long will I be hurt for. So I'm always thinking about that. But I definitely don't live in that fear. I couldn't, or I would never get anywhere doing this. I've come with the acceptance of it, and have taken in the fact that it's inevitable and going to happen. And it sucks, but this is what I do. I've been doing this most my life, so it's all I know, really.
No reason to play it safe?
No, there's no reason to play it safe. Then I should just retire and quit skating, because that's not how I built my career. I didn't build it to play it safe. I built it to keep pushing on this path until I self-destruct basically. I don't really have a goal other than to keep going until I can't do it anymore, or until the resources dry up. Or until it's just too much of a challenge to keep going.
You're skating stuff that's so far out of the realm of what any normal kid could skate. What's your approach to skating? Is it different from the average kid who's pushing down the street or skating Hollywood 16? I mean, do you ever think you're going to push it so far outside the box that nobody can relate to what you're doing anymore?
It's just an evolution of all the different things that I've done with my skateboarding. I've come to a place of feeling like I'm bored with all the other stuff that I've done, and this is intriguing and it keeps me motivated. I can only fly off or skate so many vert ramps or mini ramps, or skate so many ledges or jump down so many stairs before it becomes repetitious. And I feel like what I do is I constantly keep trying to create something new and it keeps it interesting and inspiring. I'm not really too worried about the kids trying to relate to it insofar as what they're going to emulate. Go to a Supercross and the stadium's usually sold-out, and if you want to do a survey on how many kids in that stadium have motorcycles at home, there'd probably be about 15 percent of them, if that [laughs]. There's a lot of people who watch Nascar that never get to jump in a car either as well, or Formula 1. But you have a lot of enthusiasts. They might not have that crazy F1 car or sports car in their garage, but they definitely appreciate it when they see anything to do with racing and/or cars. It's a quick analogy. So I'm not too concerned with that part of it. I definitely like to keep my relevance in skateboarding and not push so far off the path that people think there's no appreciation or respect for it anymore, but I don't think that's the case. I think that if anything, nobody's gonna hate on things that are risky and dangerous as the things are that I've been doing, and also doing relative tricks that the guys can relate to.
It seems like it's all about progression for you.
Absolutely. For me, that's the only path I know, and that's what I've built my career on. I think that if it becomes a point I'm doing something that's so out of this box, and people think it's silly and funny and all that, that's the day I end it all [laughs]. But I don't think that's the case because I try to include as many of the relevant things out in skateboarding that I can into the things that I'm doing so that there are aspects in there that people can understand.
But yeah, as long as you're on a skateboard with four wheels, it's going to be skateboarding no matter what.
Yeah. What's the alternative? Going the other direction so that I'm mellowing out so much that people can't relate to me? Or do I stay doing the same thing forever? Or do I keep doing what I'm doing? It's pretty obvious to me.
Even talking about progression, what's the idea behind this whole new stunt you've been working on in Hawaii?
Well, I wouldn't call it a stunt at all. I don't consider the things I'm doing stunts, ever. Because I think they're way too calculated for that kind of mentality. But this ramp I'm building is a permanent fixture. I'm trying to reinvent the whole "Mega" concept. There's a certain perspective of Mega Ramp skating. I think people see it as the evolution of vert skating, and I don't necessarily think that's the case.
So how long has this ramp been an idea of yours for? Has it been in your head for a while?
I have so many concepts in my head. That's the hardest thing is which one I pick and experiment with, and take the financial resources and pour them into what. So this ramp is a new design. And I think what I have to work with, and with how much I want to take risk with the situation I have, I think I came up with a pretty amazing idea that accommodates a lot, so I think that this will definitely be something that everyone sees as a great evolution of the Mega stuff. I'm trying to build my own facility like Bob [Burnquist] has got basically—but in all these different designs. I'm not trying to bite Bob's whole kit situation at all. But I definitely want my own grounds to have a facility where I can do what I need to do to get my job done. With what I have going on here, I see a constant progression going here. As long as I keep trying to build onto this thing, I think I can build a pretty amazing facility that people will be blown away by, that's for sure.
Where'd the original idea for the Mega Ramp come from, and do people look at you like your crazy when you tell them what you want to build?
I hear that shit all the time. But again, I'm not looking at myself being a stuntman. I feel it's all fairly calculated. So I don't necessarily think I'm crazy, but I can definitely see how people would perceive some of these things as out of the box and different. And I think no doubt that people will be intimidated by this monster, for sure.
So if you could leave one mark on skateboarding, what would it be? What are you trying to accomplish through all this?
If I could leave one mark on skating, it would hopefully be to keep the door open for other people that just have a straight passion for skateboarding at the highest level. I feel sorry for some of these guys that are so good at skateboarding and there's only so much opportunity to go around. There's a lot of guys that get opportunity that might not be as technically talented as one guy, but you know, has better relationships or images or whatever. So anyway, if there's one thing that I could leave, I just hope that the kid who skateboards and doesn't think they have any shot at succeeding because they might not have that certain image or look or gimmick—skateboarding is all that matters. If you just let that speak, then all else will follow. So that's always my message. Let the skateboarding do the talking. Focus on that and all else will follow.
For more about Danny Way and Waiting For Lightning, check out facebook.com/waitingforlightning