I’m a sucker for skateboarding documentaries, you guys. So, when I was flipping through Netflix Instant options and came across Waiting For Lightning, which focuses on Danny Way and his attempt to jump over the Great Wall of China on his skateboard, I was definitely interested. In addition to sounding pretty interesting in and of itself, I was very, very vaguely familiar with Way thanks to his inclusion in the Skate series of video games. Director Jacob Rosenberg takes the opportunity of using Way’s record breaking skate stunt as a springboard to dive into the man’s incredibly interesting past.
Way’s early days were pretty rough. His mom and dad got married and had two kids, but after moving back to California his dad got locked up in prison where he was murdered. His mom wound up marrying a guy who sounded pretty great, but she never really dealt with her husband’s death and it wound up eating away at her and that relationship which lead to a split and a series of crummy fill-in dads. All of that, mixed with what sounds like an inborn desire to prove himself and an older brother whose friends were all into skating all lead to Way trying his damnedest to nail every trick he saw and could think of.
He quickly rose through the ranks of skating where he latched on to several other people who filled the father role for him — some of which who were tragically taken from his life — but it wasn’t enough. Way was one of the guys who really got behind the idea of building giant ramps for big air competitions. That all lead into the idea of jumping the Great Wall which was equal parts terrifying and inspiring.
Actually, I found this entire movie inspiring. You’ve not only got Way’s burning desire to continually top himself, but also this story of a kid whose support system was ripped away from him and yet found a way to survive and thrive. This film also finds ways to present some incredible skateboarding tricks in ways that make them look as graceful and complicated as profesional dancers. That ability to train and twist the body into doing things above and beyond normal human abilities is just fascinating to me.
Finally, I was drawn to this movie as a father. Every father, no every man, needs to watch this film to see what kind of impact a father/male role model can have on a person. I don’t believe that a male or female influence is more important than the other, but it’s monumentally important to have a balance in all things in life. Danny Way had to search for his balance and he eventually found it in the fathers and men who encouraged him to follow his passion of skateboarding. He used that drive to achieve things that, literally, no other person on the planet has achieved. That’s a testament not only to his skill, but also to the men and women who were there for him in his formative years.
The experience of watching Waiting For Lightning reminded me of a mini-documentary I saw on ESPN a few months back and was similarly captivated by, The Birth Of Big Air part of the network’s 30 For 30 line-up. This film, directed by Jackass creator Jeff Tremaine, shines the spotlight on Mat Hoffman, a BMX rider whose desire to ride higher and harder than anyone else has earned him a place in sports history.
Hoffman and Way actually share quite a few similarities, which shouldn’t be too surprising considering they did very similar things on different man-powered vehicles. Both were driven by a desire to learn and top themselves, which included flying through the air to death defying heights. Both invented numerous tricks. Both have suffered serious injuries in the process (Hoffman’s doctor says he’s broken every extremity available). Both were also fueled by the deaths of loved ones, in Hoffman’s case it was his mother.
While Waiting For Lightning documents Way’s desire to jump the grand canyon, Birth Of Big Air shows Hoffman’s struggles to achieve world records and get recognition for the work he was doing. It’s an intense journey that has resulted in recognition, but also plenty of worrisome injuries.
The problem I have with guys like Danny and Mat is that they’re both dads who feel the need to push themselves as hard as possible in order to prove their abilities or even show how great they are to their kids. This bothers me because you’re directly risking your life to impress your kids whereas I believe you need to have a longer view of life that includes sticking around and taking care of your children. But hey, that’s why I’m sitting on my couch blogging about guys soaring through the air and not doing it myself.