Carved into the high mountain desert in the Southern California
town of Aguanga is a skateboard ramp built to cartoonish
proportions. To survive the Mega Ramp, a rider must barrel down
a 64-foot-high, 60-degree slope at 40 mph and clear a 75-foot
gap between the takeoff point and the landing area, which
shoots straight into a 27-foot quarterpipe that looks like a
section of roller coaster. The structure, says one pro rider,
is so intimidating and absurd that "you can only laugh at
yourself as you roll in, and pray that you don't die." It's
something only a madman--one with visions of leaping across the
Grand Canyon and over the Great Wall of China on a
skateboard--could conceive. ¬∂ Convinced that big-air ramps are
skateboarding's future, longtime pro Danny Way worked with
sponsor DC to design the ramp, which was built in early 2003 at
a cost of $150,000. On June 12, 2003, Way got in touch with his
inner Evel Knievel to set a Guinness World Record for longest
distance jumped (75 feet) and highest air on a vert pipe
(23'5")--in one continuous run. "I want to keep progressing the
sport," Way says. "This just shows that we haven't really
scratched the surface of what can be done." When footage of
Way's giant leap on the Mega Ramp, then the biggest skate ramp
ever built, premiered a week later at Grauman's Chinese Theatre
in Hollywood for The DC Video, the audience went berserk.
The buzz over Way's big air quickly caught the attention of X
Games organizers. Eager to take his death-defying stunt live on a
national scale, the X Games will debut a new discipline, big-air
skateboarding, in August at the 10th annual games in Los Angeles.
The X Games have built their version of the Mega Ramp, a towering
peak that rises to 89 feet at the tallest of three drop-ins. "The
public will be seeing something they've never seen before. It'll
blow people away," says pro vert rider Colin McKay. "It'll make
the vert pipe contest look like lawn mowing."
The big-air skate contest will feature Bob Burnquist, Jake Brown,
Jason Ellis, Pierre-Luc Gagnon, Andy Macdonald and Way. Says X
Games competition director Scott Hanley, "We were looking for 10
athletes, but as we were monitoring who's doing what on this ramp
... we found six."
Leading that short list of elite riders is Way, 30, the
Californian who'd won the admiration of his peers with his
innovation and his daring long before he conceived of and
conquered the Mega Ramp. "Danny, hands down, is the most
influential skateboarder ever," says Burnquist, a three-time X
Games gold medalist in the vert discipline. "He was never a big
contest guy, but he was the one bringing all the flips and grabs
Way, who turned pro in 1989, says he had plans to supersize and
modify vert ramps after flying 70 feet across tabletops on a
motocross bike at age 14. He has invented countless street and
vert skating tricks and was the first to perform such technically
challenging moves as the Indy 720 (two rotations while grabbing
the toe edge with the back hand) in a halfpipe.
Then there are the tricks Way lands that no one else dares. In
August 1997, moments after setting his first world record for
highest air (16 1/2 feet), he bomb-dropped into a vert pipe from
a helicopter hovering 35 feet above an airport tarmac. "Danny's
got serious balls," says McKay. "Nothing scares him. I've stopped
counting the number of times I've had to tell him, 'That's death
right there if you do that.'"
Way's desire to keep pushing the edge has led inevitably to the
idea of flying over the Great Wall. "China is on the menu," says
Way. "People think it's a lot greater than it is. It's just tall
and skinny. It won't be hard, but it'll be awkward." And the
Grand Canyon? "There's a spot near where Robbie [Knievel] jumped
[228 feet on a motorcycle in '99] that would probably be the
place where we'd do it," Way says. "It'll be tough to get the
rights, and there's the logistics of building a mobile version of
the Mega Ramp. I'm not dying to do it, but this fits inside what
I'm capable of doing."
For Way, overcoming a difficult childhood has been a bigger
challenge than any stunt he's performed. When he was eight months
old, his father, Dennis, a musician who made custom guitars for
such artists as Johnny Winter and Carlos Santana, was jailed for
failure to pay child support to his ex-wife. On Dec. 11, 1974,
Dennis was found dead in the San Diego County Jail.
Two years later Danny's mother, Mary Way, married Tim O'Dea, a
surfer and boat restorer. It was Tim who introduced Danny and
older brother Damon to skateboarding at the Del Mar (Calif.)
Skate Ranch. After the couple divorced in 1979, Mary and her two
sons went through a difficult period, living on welfare on and
off. By the age of 13, however, Danny was a top amateur skater in
Southern California, and in his second year after turning pro,
Way was making more than $100,000. Says Way, "I had an
interesting upbringing. There were drug deals going on. I didn't
want to be like these losers around me. My stepdad got me into
skateboarding when I was three. Skateboarding was all I had, and
I learned to take the bad stuff in my life and use it as a
motivation to make something of myself."
Danny's skating also proved invaluable to his brother. One
morning in November '86, Danny found Damon, then 15, having a
seizure. He had suffered a blow to his temple in a fistfight
during a high school football game the night before, which caused
a hematoma. The trauma left Damon partially paralyzed on his left
side and required him to go through continuous rehab, with much
of the expense covered by Danny's earnings. In 1992 Damon
cofounded DC Shoes, and he's now the executive VP of the company,
which in March was bought by Quiksilver for $87 million.
Way lives two miles from the beach in Encinitas, Calif., with his
wife, Kari, and two children, Ryden, 6, and Tavin, 2.
"Skateboarding has given me a lot," he says, "and that's why I
want to contribute and give back to the sport."
His determination was never more apparent than when filming the
video on the Mega Ramp. Over a six-week period last year Way
spent 13 days learning to carry the smaller of the two gaps on
the ramp (a 50-footer that followed a 48-foot drop-in), adding
new spins and flips during the aerial. Along the way he suffered
scrapes, burns, whiplash, a concussion and a fractured wrist. On
the final day of shooting, with the record-breaking run still
eluding him, Way slammed his left foot on the lip of the
quarterpipe during a practice run. Barely able to walk, he took a
couple of hours to regroup, then on his last attempt broke his
own Guinness record (65 feet of long air and 18'3" of high air,
in 2002) by hitting 75 feet. Way likened his clutch performance
to an "80-yard touchdown with one second left."
A few months after his historic run Way returned to the high
mountain desert to build a 10-foot-tall wooden box over the Mega
Ramp's landing zone. After nailing his runs with effortless
grace, he added a half-moon steel rail over the tabletop. Again
and again he flew higher and higher into the fading sun.
In discussing the X Games, the Grand Canyon and beyond, the
world's most innovative rider worries most about his role in the
sport's evolution. "I don't want to hit the roof too soon," he
But that's the thing about the future of skateboarding. It's
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY MIKE BLABAC SOAR POINTS Way's record leap last year carried him 75 feet from the Mega Ramp's launch pad (right) to the landing.
COLOR PHOTO: J. GRANT BRITTAIN/TRANSWORLD SKATEBOARDING HELI FRESH Way has pushed the edge with stunts like dropping from a chopper onto a vert pipe.
"This is going to blow people away," McKay says of the X Games
big-air event. "It'll make the vert pipe LOOK LIKE LAWN MOWING."