freelance writer & editor

danny way and the art of progression

This article was originally published by Slam Skateboarding Magazine.

Danny Way seems tired. He arrived in Melbourne from Los Angeles for the Australian premiere of his new documentary, Waiting for Lightning, only this morning and he’s had a full day of interviews. Ours will be his last of the day.

He’s losing his voice and he’s probably had enough of getting asked probing questions from complete strangers. He’s hungry, too.

Danny greets me with a handshake and a forced smile, sits in one of the two chairs set up for our interview and waits for me to join him. It’s evident from the get-go that Danny Way is all business.

As I start with my questions, Danny’s quiet and cagey responses leave me under no illusions that he'd rather be somewhere else — perhaps catching up with his old friend Tas Pappas, who happens to be sitting in on our chat. I can hardly blame him. He’s friendly enough, but seems weary of what he says and how he says it. When he answers my questions, he's not so much looking at me as is looking through me.

The conversation progresses and Danny becomes more animated, especially when the topic turns to his two children. “Raising children is definitely the most challenging and rewarding thing I’ve done”, says the 38-year-old. “Skateboarding doesn’t really have that much relevance in the big picture of what matters of life. Family’s definitely a priority.”

You’d be hard pressed to find anyone in the skateboarding industry that doesn’t pray at the altar of Danny Way. From humble beginnings and a troubled childhood, Danny put every last ounce of energy into his skateboard and he’s been going full-bore since his first push. He won his first contest in 1986 at just 11-years-old and has been collecting gold and silver medals courtesy of the contest circuit ever since.

I don’t want my kids to see me afraid to pursue my goals just because they’re here.
— Danny Way

In 1991, he became Thrasher Magazine's Skater of the Year (the most coveted title in skateboarding) and was crowned SOTY again 13 years later. Then there’s the helicopter jump, the Great Wall of China debacle, the Hard Rock Café guitar drop-in, as well as his MegaRamp creation and the subsequent earth-shattering video parts he filmed on it. Danny is what you get when you mix talent with unwavering determination in their purest forms.

Now, with his story committed to film in Waiting for Lighting (courtesy of director and close friend Jacob Rosenberg — the only person Danny could trust to articulate his vision), the rest of the world can witness the evolution of one of the greatest skateboarders of all time for themselves.

Despite the hype surrounding the release of Waiting for Lightning, Danny lets on that there was actually another reason that he agreed to the documentary. “I put together this wish-list of things I would wanted to do for DC, and every item the list had a hidden agenda — which was to get a budget to build a ramp,” he says. “When I presented the list of ideas in a couple of conceptual meetings they honed in on the documentary idea. I was like ‘I’d love to do the documentary...but I have to end it on a bang’. I didn’t set on having this goal to make this movie, it was one of a few ideas we tossed around and it stuck.”

The ramp he’s talking about is located in Kauai, Hawaii, where Danny bought a property with the specific intention of building a skateable structure in the valley behind it. The Waiting for Lightning bonus footage sees Danny skating this beast in slow motion. He got what he came for.

There’s a balance between the fear and the confidence that gets you to that certain place you need to be to accomplish something that’s risky.
— Danny Way

Whilst most people might see becoming a parent as a good reason to take fewer risks in life, Danny has a different perspective. “Having children just inspires me more,” he says. “I don’t want my kids to see me afraid to pursue my goals just because they’re here. I want them to be inspired by watching me pursue my goals. I want my kids to be proud of the things I accomplish, not the things I don’t.” And if the Way brood decide they want follow in their father's footsteps and put themselves in potentially perilous situations for the sake of progression? “I would support them 100%. I would love for my kids to want to do that."

Waiting for Lightning is a deeply personal story that follows the skate pioneer from his turbulent youth right up to his Great Wall feat back in 2005. Peppered with vintage footage (which highlights how far ahead of the curve Way has always been) are interviews with Danny’s family, friends, and peers — all of whom help paint a clear and, at times, intimidating picture of a human being whose intense levels of determination could almost be a cause for concern, were he not so focused on skateboarding.

Looking over his track record, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Danny Way is immune to the big F. “I’m definitely not fearless,” he retorts. “Fear is the grounding factor in preventing being overconfident. There’s a balance between the fear and the confidence that gets you to that certain place you need to be to accomplish something that’s risky. "Fear’s a good thing. Without it we wouldn’t be sitting here. I think the understanding of fear is a great asset to have.”

Still, Danny is unable to remember the last time he was scared. After some head scratching, he replies: “I don’t know an exact moment.” And seems almost surprised by his admission.

I have some of the most satisfying days skateboarding behind closed doors with my friends and nobody ever sees it.
— Danny Way

Though best known for his footwork on ramps of all shapes and sizes, Danny is also a formidable street skater. Of his early video parts, his section in Plan B’s Questionable from 1992 is probably the definitive example of this.

Thrasher magazine have dubbed the six-minute section as “the absolute benchmark” of all-terrain video parts — praise even more astounding when you consider that it took Danny less than six months to film it. “I’ve dabbled so much in the vert and ramp skating arena that I know how much fun is and it’s hard to find that feeling street skating,” says Danny on why he’s gravitated more towards the plywood than the concrete. “Street skating has its own feeling and its own perks, but there’s something you can’t find on the streets that you can find on the ramp. It’s a whole different experience.”

With all of the high-profile, high-pressure undertakings Danny has ploughed through over the years, it’d be easy to imagine the fun getting sapped out of it all. “For the most part,” he replies, “I have some of the most satisfying days skateboarding behind closed doors with my friends and nobody ever sees it. At the end of the day, what thrills me the most and what drives me the most is the moment.”

In a documentary-type segment in ON Video from the summer of 2000 about Danny’s progression in skateboarding up to that point, his peers were already calling him one of the greatest living skateboarders. That was 12 years ago, and Danny is still pushing himself and skateboarding to the absolute limit. “Skateboarding is a unique profession in that way,” he says. “I think I’ve been blessed and I’ve been very lucky and somehow managed to stay relevant through the years. People could not care about what I do, but I didn’t set out to do anything other than stay on the path that I’m passionate about.”