NEW YORK TIMES
By MATT HIGGINS
July 8, 2005
In the early 13th century, Genghis Khan’s armies were the first major conquerors to circumvent the Great Wall of China. Danny Way, an American skateboarder, will need only a few seconds tomorrow to launch over the wall.
Using a massive structure called a Mega Ramp, Way hopes to break several Guinness World Records by jumping over the wall, which is more than 2,000 years old.
“I’ve always wanted to know what I’m capable of jumping on my skateboard,” Way said. “It’s more than the jump itself. I’ve always wanted to put something special between the jump, something that symbolizes something beyond skateboarding to the rest of the world.”
The 65-foot-high ramp will propel Way at around 55 miles an hour and launch him over the more than 70-foot width of the wall. Once clear, he will land on a 100-foot-long ramp before soaring again off a 30-foot-tall quarterpipe.
“It has pushed the perceived limits of how far and how high we can go on a skateboard,” the pro skater Tony Hawk wrote in an e-mail message. “However, I have no doubts that he will attempt something bigger in the future.”
Way, 31, from Encinitas, Calif., is hoping to set records for the longest jump, the highest air on a vertical ramp and the fastest speed on a skateboard.
“Danny Way is a showman,” said Danny Kwock, a vice president at the apparel manufacturer Quiksilver, which is underwriting a portion of the production costs of the jump. “He’s the Evel Knievel of skateboarding.”
Way was also a co-founder of DC Shoes, an apparel company that was purchased by Quicksilver last year. Using sponsorship money from DC, Way invented the first Mega Ramp in 2002 and built a bigger version the next year, when he used it to set world records in distance (75 feet) and height above a ramp (23.5 feet).
The construction and jumps were carried off with such secrecy that few people saw either until DC released a video in May 2003.
The jumps shook the skateboarding world and led the X Games to approach Way about adding a Mega Ramp to its events. The “Big Air” competition was unveiled at the 2004 games, and Way won a gold medal while setting a distance record of 79 feet. He was the only competitor to roll into the ramp from the highest section.
Way was at the height of his sport, where he had seemed destined to be 15 years earlier. He turned professional at 14, and his career has followed the trajectory of a Mega Ramp run, full of ups and downs.
He stood out early on not only for his fearlessness, but also for his innovation. In 1991, he was named skater of the year by Thrasher magazine, which covers the sport.
“He was always eager to learn new tricks, even if he had to invent them himself,” Hawk said. “He was pioneering moves in his early teens.”
Three years later, however, Way was injured while surfing and could not move from the waist up for more than a year because of swelling and bruising on his brain stem and spinal cord.
“I was a wreck,” he said. “I never thought I would be able to do what I’m doing now. Skateboarding came back quickly. But learning to get over the fear of falling and taking a slam with my body – there’s a fear installed inside me now that’s really cautious of movement in my neck and back.”
That caution did not prevent him from attempting breathtaking stunts and sustaining serious injury. Way jumped out of a helicopter into a halfpipe in 1997 and 1999. From 1999 to 2002, he had surgery seven times, five times on his knees and two on his shoulder. Last December, he had knee surgery again.
Through the pain and rehabilitation, Way somehow gave birth to the Mega Ramp, with its potential for catastrophe. But then, Way’s career moves have been risky, too. He has eschewed most big contests like the X Games, which many of his peers rely on for exposure and money, in favor of performing stunts and pioneering new types of riding.
“I get pressure from my sponsors and people around me who are nervous about what I’m trying to accomplish,” Way said of his desire to introduce a new discipline to skateboarding. “But I’ve been confident that I could achieve that goal in a different way that’s more unique if they gave me the freedom to pursue my own path.”
Exercising that freedom last year helped make him the only person to be skater of the year twice, and now it has led him to the Great Wall of China.
“It’s a big fantasy to jump the wall,” Way said. “These are just kid fantasies becoming reality.”