Tony Hawk may be the richest and most well-known man in skateboarding, but no skater has pushed the limits of his sport more than Danny Way. On a hot and humid evening last July, with more than 100 million watching a live two-hour broadcast, the 31-year-old from Encinitas, Calif., jumped over the Great Wall of China on his skateboard. Taking off from his 65-foot Mega Ramp at a speed of 50 mph, Way cleared a 70-foot section of the gap five times. He also threw in 360 degree spins on his last three runs. But what made his performance especially clutch was that he could barely walk.
The day before, on his first try at Ju Yong Guan Gate, 30 miles north of Beijing, Way took off from the Mega Ramp and immediately realized that he wasn't going to clear the wall. Frantically clawing at the thick humid air, he slammed onto the top of the 100-foot-long landing ramp.
"I knew right away that something was wrong," he said. "It's definitely one of the scariest spills I've had. If you look at the footage, it looks like I'm going to kill myself."
Way was rushed to an emergency room, but he refused to have his right ankle, which had swollen to the size of a baseball, X-rayed. Rather than call off the $1.7 million event, Way psyched himself up to continue with the jump. "It [the ankle] wasn't visibly broken, and if it was I don't know if I would have gone on [with the jump]," Way said. "Having the bones look normal and not misaligned gave me confidence that it wasn't a bad break. Mentally, I had that on my side."
Whether it's clearing the Great Wall while wearing an ankle brace or returning to skating after breaking his neck in a 1994 surfing accident, Way has sacrificed his body in pursuit of skateboarding. "He's always been Mr. Innovation," said skater Jason Ellis. "He's constantly racking his brain for new stuff to do."
Way has continually stretched the possibilities of what a man can do on a skateboard for nearly two decades. At 13, Way mastered the most difficult moves and invented his own tricks. At 23, he dropped into a vert pipe from a helicopter 35 feet above an airport tarmac. In 2002, he invented the Mega Ramp, which he used to set three Guinness World records for longest distance jumped (79 feet), highest air on a vert pipe (23-feet, 5 inches) and speed (44 mph).
"We haven't really scratched the surface of what can be done," Way said after he set the records in 2003. "I want to keep progressing the sport."
In two years, Way took his big-air show on the road, first to the X Games in Los Angeles, and then to China, where he was presented with a six-inch piece of the Wall. Of course, Way's already thinking of his next move.
"Jumping the wall was a once in a lifetime opportunity," he said. "I've got a few unique ideas that are comparable. I'm going to keep quiet about these, but you'll find out soon enough."
For flying over the Great Wall of China, Way not only gets his wings, he also gets my vote as Sportsman of the Year.
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