Getting Danny Way on the phone for an interview can be quite a project. It takes a certain relentlessness, and no fewer than 10 days of steady calls and emails to his manager, publicist, and significant other. He wasn't avoiding me. He was just busy. He recently started off-road racing, making his competitive debut last weekend on the Lucas Oil Off-Road Racing Series at Utah's Miller Motorsports Park, finishing his first race in tenth and his second race in eighth. And these days, it's also likely that he's blessedly afflicted with Island Time. Can't blame him, though. Hawaii -- the island of Kauai, to be exact -- is Way's home away from home. He owns a big chunk of lush acreage there, and along with all the natural splendor, it's home to one of the Wonders of the Skateboard World.
The closing segment of "Waiting For Lightening," -- a feature-length documentary about Way's life that will get a theatrical release this fall with Samuel Goldwyn Films -- features the 38-year-old skating his newly completed megastructure. For fans of Way's ongoing breach of skateboarding's boundaries, the three-minute solo session leaves them once again shaking their heads in disbelief. If you've ever wondered what a 360 flip up a twenty foot step-up looks like at 45 miles per hour, this clip has your answer.
To build a skate ramp that can facilitate those sorts of impossibilities is another story entirely. It takes a career of experience, gut-level gambles, and a lot of money. And even with all those stars aligned, construction was tough, according to Brian Harper, project developer at California Ramp Works. "I've been building ramps for 20 years, and that was probably the hardest job I've ever done," he told ESPN.com. "We had state-of-emergency rain and flooding. We just had to fight through it. The mud there is lose-your-shoe type of mud. It was so slippery and so muddy that we couldn't drive our big forklift and had to move materials by hand."
For more on the project, I caught up with Way at his mainland home in Encinitas, Calif., where he was packing his bags for another "Waiting for Lightning" screening tour, spending time with his family, and taking care of business with his sponsors. After apologizing for the delay in getting hold of him, he took an hour away from his hectic schedule to talk about his new ramp, what it takes to survive a session, and where he stands in the world of skateboarding.
ESPN.com: Your new ramp looks to be a traditional MegaRamp quarterpipe with all sorts of bells and whistles, from step-ups and setbacks to extensions and elevated decks. What's going on?
Way: A lot of these ideas I've been wrestling with for a long time. There were so many things I wanted to do but I only had so much to work with [in terms of timing and budget]. So I went into my big ideas, tons of different concepts I've come up with. My biggest thing has been to integrate all aspects of skateboarding into one. I don't necessarily want to create something that's completely vert-minded or street-minded or whatever. I try for something universal when I build something so I'm covering all fundamentals of skateboarding in each of these projects.
How does it ride?
It turned out exactly how I wanted it to turn out. Some of the things I build were experimental. It was a gamble, a big gamble, because some of these features were probably the most important of the design. What I've done in the past has definitely supported my ability to prevail on some of these designs, but some of it was completely from scratch. It's a hybrid of some history and some complete unknowns. I can't say that I can complain about the results. The ramp works amazing.
Talk about the step-up. The step-up is 20 feet from the lip of the ramp to the deck. It's quite a nice launch up that thing. The ramp that you take off from going up it is close to 18-feet tall. So this thing is almost a total of four-stories tall, so it's pretty awesome to fly up that high going that fast but not have the repercussions of coming back down. And that was my goal with how we made it, so that the math was right so I could essentially run out of tricks or bail out of tricks no different than I would on a normal street course.
As far as calculating ramp dimensions with your speed, do you just go with your gut or are you sitting down with some physicists to work on the numbers beforehand?
The only mathematician in this equation is me. I bounce ideas off the guys I work with to take those visions and make them reality. At a certain point, though, from a structural standpoint, I don't think I'm qualified to say this will work or that will work, but I can say [to them,] "I know that these dimensions will work -- can you make a structure that will support these dimensions?" When it comes to designing those dimensions, that's all me and that's just my history with skateboarding and the things I've built before.
I have a pretty good formula that I use that really only comes from experimenting with ramps. As a kid, I was experimenting with ramps in my backyard. And I didn't have anybody to teach me anything about that back then, so I just started stealing wood from construction sites and doing it. And then when I started making money from skateboarding, I was able to fund bigger ramp projects. Ever since I was a little kid I've always been intrigued not only by the maneuvers themselves but also by building ramps to support whatever those maneuvers could be if the environment was right.
Can you describe this formula?
It's taken me 25 years to get these equations right but I can say this: They work. Some of my dimensions are... well... you know...
I've been spending a lot of time and money and physical effort, and I've taken a lot of risk to achieve these formulas. It's not like I'm trying to hide these secrets from everybody, but the brand new stuff I just built, I'm a little protective of those dimensions right now.
Fair enough. How does the concrete roll-in change things?
The concrete is awesome. I knew that concrete would be the ultimate material for the runway. Skatelite is great, but over time, it's a material that can deteriorate. Concrete is a one-shot deal. You pour this slab and it's gonna be there forever. It's always going to be fast and smooth. It's awesome. If this ramp design becomes something that's old or if it's time to evolve it, I'll always have this concrete runway in place for the rest of my life. I have plans to expand. This is the first phase to eventually have a facility that's a connecting skatepark of megastructures, so you can go from one to the next to the next and so on.
What were some of the challenges to building in the tropics?
Shipping Skatelite across the Pacific Ocean in a time crunch was not cheap. Also, the rain. There was record rainfall [when we were building], like four feet of rain in three days. The roads were washed out. The bridges were washed out. Nobody was going anywhere. The project was on and off and on and off. We probably picked the worst time of year to build.
What about your setup? Experimenting with your skateboard at all?
I haven't been experimenting with my setups other than the board construction in my decks. Paul Schmitt has been giving me these awesome carbon-fiber decks that don't flex at all. Going that fast, I don't have any room for a board to flex. With that much g-force, if you have a board that flexes it can become dangerous. I've been trying to achieve a board with Paul that's light enough and stiff enough to overcome the issues I've had with other boards.
With the SuperRamp that I build [in 1997] that started this whole genre, that setup I was riding was roughly similar to the board I'm riding now, in terms of dimensions. It was a bit smaller. But the width hasn't changed much, only the length and the wheelbase. But for the most part, since The DC Video and the unveiling of the MegaRamp, from then until now, I haven't done much with my setup.
With the trucks, since 1997, I've been riding a 215 [mm] Independent.Those have worked since the beginning. They work great. The crazy thing is that those trucks were designed in 1979 by Duane Peters for grinding pools; he wanted a wider truck.
I didn't know what to do when I started riding that SuperRamp. I brought all kinds of parts, all kinds of truck sizes, and I realized real quick that the 215s are the way to go and from that point on I've never switched them up. There's no reason to.
Speed's not an issue for me anymore so [having a bigger wheel] was only impairing my skating, so I started retracting a bit on those dimensions. I had a little bit of change in that department but not much. Just a refinement. Overall, with my setups, the dimensions aren't changing much at all. It's just the board technology that's advancing.
What about protective gear?
That's the other thing with skating these ramps. Very important. The pads I get are custom made from Boneless, beefed up with materials that last longer against the friction that you're up against. At 45 mph, that creates an instant heat friction that burns material to the point that if you're not using the right pads or shoes, they'll melt so fast that you might only get in a few runs before your shoes and shoelaces are melted and your toes are sticking out. Or your caps on your pads are melted through already or your pad straps have melted off because they're sewn on at the wrong spot.
If your skin hits the ramp at that speed, it's no good. It literally just melts your skin off in a millisecond. So there's a big component to this that's probably the most important. Covering your body with some sort of protective material. And if you want to skate for more than a few runs and not have to go retie your shoelaces or replace your shoes or your pads, you might want to go get some custom stuff made.
[As you can imagine] there's not much of a market for this kind of gear. So I'm having to create the products that I need as I go. I buy a couple things at the sporting good store that I can't get in the skate industry. I get my knee braces and knee gaskets from someplace else. I get my pads custom. I have a helmet sponsor, pretty much the same as what you're going to buy in the skate shop, which is probably not the best situation, but we're talking about an area in skateboarding that isn't really a product-driven area. All of the guys that are doing this are all kind of figuring out what they need as they go.
How are you holding up physically?
I'm holding up great. I've been around the block physically. But I can be honest and say that I've been trying to take care of myself for the past 15 years, trying to create longevity in my career, with my approach to my diet and understanding how to train in a way that improves my performance and my longevity and that gives me an advantage when I do take hard hits, so that I don't stay as hurt for as long as I used to. Just really getting serious about the longevity of my career. I've come a long way with it. I've done a lot of damage to myself but I'm still in pretty good shape and I don't think it would be this way if I would have just gone about my life carelessly and without a concern for trying to give myself an advantage in terms my health and strength.
When you're in Hawaii and not skating, what do you like to do?
I'm usually hanging out at the beach or hiking and checking out nature. Hawaii's a place where it's really easy to focus on the things that really matter in life. So when I'm there, I try to indulge in the environment more, as opposed to the modern, technical world [here in Southern California].
Speaking of what's happening here on the mainland, what's your take on Tom Schaar's 1080 and the subsequent publicity?
If you want to ask a guy that would probably give you a different perspective and probably have an appreciation for it, it would be Tony Hawk. Or Shaun White, because that trick was something he was concerned with.
This is the first phase to eventually have a facility that's a connecting skatepark of megastructures...
In the world of skateboarding that I live in and what's on my agenda and how I'm trying to progress skateboarding, it's probably a little less of that vert mentality and a lot more of the street mentality. You can't do 1080s and 900s on the street. Most of the things that I'm trying to do on my skateboard right now are universal things, maneuvers you can do on all terrains, things you can apply everywhere. I don't see a 1080 fitting in anywhere else than on the Mega quarterpipe or on a vert ramp.
I think it's awesome that Tom and Mitchie [Brusco] can do these moves but I also think that since they're growing up in this era, they're almost shortchanged in a sense that they're growing up and seeing what's spotlighted to them as important or seeing what's pointed out to them as benchmarks for getting notoriety… and missing some of the fundamentals that come before some of these maneuvers.
Again, I think Tom's an awesome skateboarder. He's very talented, and his 1080 is a very, very awesome thing. But there's a lot more to skateboarding than 1080s and 900s.
Are you interested in skating contests anymore?
I don't really have a desire to skate contests because I don't really feel like I'm trying to compete against anybody else at this point. It's not my goal to go out there and be better than somebody else. I don't look at what everybody else is doing and try to figure out how to be better. I just like to figure out what I did last time [I skated] and use that as motivation to propel me. I don't need to do that in a contest situation. If anything, contests just drive me to a place of danger. Because I'll put myself through whatever it takes. I'm a little bit afraid of myself in that environment, to be honest. It's a little detrimental to what I want to be doing on my skateboard right now because I know I'll take major risks in contests because I'm pretty relentless about making sure I get done what I want to do there. I usually don't stop until I break myself to pieces.
Also, skating contests is repetitive. You go there, you do the same thing over and over and over again, until you master it, and that's the rhythm of a contest. And I don't want to go and be repetitive. I spent the first decade of my career competing. When I was a kid, contests were everything; you had to have a ranking to get anywhere in skateboarding. Today, you don't need contests to be a successful skateboarder.
I would really like to just focus on being creative and do things that could potentially pay homage back to the competitive world, such as what's happened with the MegaRamp. But it's not about me being the guy on the top of the podium. I get just as much satisfaction being the guy creating the platform for these other guys to go there and do that. And at the end of the day, everybody wins. Just standing on the MegaRamp at the X Games without even entering the contest, I feel it's been a major accomplishment -- to know that the full genre exists and that it's relevant and that people even believed in it enough to support me to a point where it's important to the world of skateboarding.
Long story short: I'm content not competing right now. It just doesn't fit where I'm at.
That's because you'd rather be in Hawaii skating Stage 1.
Stage 1 is right. And hopefully with the success of Stage 1, we'll get the support to build Stage 2. In the meantime, I've got this ramp sitting there, and I'm ready to get back to work. My priority is being in Hawaii as much as possible for the next year.