People who don’t follow skateboarding or extreme sports in general may never have heard of Danny Way, but Jacob Rosenberg’s documentary “Waiting for Lightning” does a great job of introducing the rest of the population to this professional skateboarder. Way is, at turns, lovable, reckless, selfish and ultimately an inspiration, not just to skateboarders but to anyone trying to accomplish a goal.
Rosenberg’s film follows both Way’s personal history, as well as the tribulations leading up to his monumental jump off a ramp and over the Great Wall of China. The story of Way’s difficult childhood is riveting and unexpected, brought to life by slow-motion, sepia-tinted re-enactments of the turbulent moments of his family life with his drug-addicted mother and her abusive boyfriends. But the truly golden moments come from the extraordinary real footage of a young Way, his brother Damon and their friends hanging out at skate parks, practicing, winning competitions and enjoying reckless freedom as teenagers.
Interviews with Way, his family and other skateboarding professionals such as Rob Dyrdek and Bob Burnquist testify to Way’s greatness as an athlete and an innovator in the sport. In particular, a nod to Way from the most famous skateboarder ever, Tony Hawk, truly emphasizes Way’s importance in the skateboarding world.
Falling down and rising again is a recurring theme throughout the documentary. Such enlightening moments include a scene where Way suffers a nasty fall at the X Games XIV in Los Angeles and seriously injures his shins and ankle, yet he gets up minutes later and lands the trick that he had previously missed. Following that scene is Way’s practice run on the huge ramp in China, where he comes up short on the almost 70-foot jump, landing badly and tearing ligaments in his ankle less than 24 hours before his scheduled televised jump.
Certain moments in the movie — notably that of Way’s mother giving him a small container of his stepfather’s ashes to put in his pocket while making the jump over the Great Wall — seem a little too emotionally crafted, but most scenes feel authentic.
At points, Way seems selfish, spending massive amounts of money and risking his life just to conquer a new trick. One would think that because his father, stepfather and childhood mentor died when he was young, Way would want to do everything possible to preserve his life for the sake of his own sons. But Way’s drive for success has been with him his entire life, and he even admits without much regret that he will likely die doing what he loves.
“Waiting for Lighting” is an honest story of a man on a never-ending quest for greatness, no matter what the cost.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Dec. 4 print edition. Ife Olujobi is a staff writer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.