Thirty years ago, when North County found itself at the center of a skateboarding revolution, one young skater who quickly gained legendary status was Danny Way.
Born in Oregon, Way moved to Southern California as a kid and would pass the Del Mar Skate Ranch while driving on the freeway with his parents. “I would beg them to take me and my brothers.”
Today, Way lives in Encinitas, and despite the past two decades being at the forefront of professional skateboarding, he isn’t quite ready to hang up his board yet. Case in point: Last month, Way broke the Guinness World Record for Highest Skateboard Air Ever, going a whopping 25.5 feet high and incredibly breaking an old record that he himself set in 2003 by two feet.
“I never thought I’d be skating at this caliber and at this age,” said the 41-year-old from his North County home. “This level of skating is risky, so to me this is pretty gnarly of an accomplishment.”
In fact, Way’s entire career could be described as “pretty gnarly of an accomplishment.” Known for his audacious and headline-grabbing stunts (including being the sole person to ollie over the Great Wall of China and the first person to drop onto a skate ramp via helicopter), Way’s passion for the sport began after his family moved to North County and he and his brother, Damon, became fixtures in the skate scene.
“I’ve been very lucky to have had these influences around me,” said Way, who grew up in the sweet spot among fellow legends such as Tony Hawk. “I loved playing tackle football as a kid, but skateboarding gave me such a different sort of feeling.”
Way endured a rough childhood that has been well-documented, involving the tragic deaths of his father, stepfather, and a skating mentor, as well as his mother’s struggles with substance abuse. Through it all, skating served as the beacon that kept Way on course.
“It gave me the ability to detach from things that were going on around me that weren’t so positive,” he noted, touching on the fact that he saw the sport explode in front of his eyes.
“When I was a kid, it seemed so much more grand than it was at the time. There were professional contests at the Del Mar Skate Ranch when 500 people would show up ... it seemed like the Super Bowl to me. I started skating professionally at age 14, so I’ve had a pretty long life of this.”
The secret to his longevity, he said, is a holistic lifestyle that involves him putting in the time to train right and eating healthfully, as well as constructing ramps that are impossibly large.
“It costs money to build these ramps at this caliber, but it’s scary because you don’t know what’s going to work or not,” he said of his constant drive to elevate his athleticism and the sport in general. “My mentality is that I feel like I can always do bigger and better.” (Late last month, ABC aired the documentary “Beyond Measure,” which chronicled Way’s quest to break his air record.)
Along with shattering records, these days Way is also busy raising his three kids, who are aged 17, 13 and 7. And yes, they’re into skating as well.
“It’s awesome to have a connection with your kids like that,” Way said. “It’s a great bonding vehicle, but at the same time the sport has been abusive to me as well. The life of an athlete isn’t as glamorous as people portray it to be. Some of it is, but it can be short-lived if you don’t do the right things to protect your future when you’re young.”
So would he let his kids pursue skating as hard as he did?
“I”ve been through so many injuries and surgeries that it’s hard to want my kids to follow my trail. But at the same time, I would not steer them away from what they want to do.”
Instead of resting on his laurels more than two decades into his career, Way is as fired up as ever about the sport that’s been his entire life’s work. Even though he broke a record twice in a row, he wants to break it again.
“Skating is a part of who I am,” he explained. “My passion is so profound that I can’t really be content with something until I’ve exhausted it.”
And, he added, “Who knows where the end result of this world record lies?”