Sports documentaries can be cut-and-dried but occasionally one comes along that strikes a chord. Director Jacob Rosenberg’s film ‘Waiting for Lightning’ celebrates the career of extreme-sports superstar Danny Way. It’s a remarkable story about a scrawny kid who persevered over incredible odds to become a professional skateboarding legend. Using archival footage, Rosenberg shows Way’s triumphs and setbacks leading to his career-defining jump over the Great Wall of China in 2005. Although this is a skateboarding film, Way’s inspirational story transcends beyond the sport. He demonstrates how following one’s passion, being fearless and never giving up are qualities that everyone can identify with in their own lives.
Way grew up in a working class suburb of San Diego known as Vista. His biological father built him his first skateboard from scratch at the age of 3. From the moment he stepped foot on the board, he formed an inseparable bond with it. His father tragically died in prison and his mother turned to drug addiction. Way’s coping mechanism was skateboarding. From dawn until dusk, he practiced tricks and jumps at the legendary Del Mar skate park. During his rise, he turned pro at age 15 and earned Thrasher Magazine’s “Skater of the Year” award. One of the biggest influences early in his career was becoming friends with fellow skateboarder and mentor Mike Ternasky.
‘Waiting for Lightning’ is loaded with dozens of interviews from the biggest names in extreme sports including Tony Hawk who is unquestionably the most famous skateboarder and big-wave surfer Laird Hamilton who knows a thing or two about taking death-defying risks. His peers give Way genuine respect for pushing the envelope in the sport. The film brushes on the emerging 1980s SoCal surf and skateboarding culture that eventually turned into a billion dollar industry worldwide. When Ternasky formed the Plan B skateboarding team in ’91, Way and the other riders were revered as “The Dream Team” in the skateboarding world. Big sponsorships soon rolled in for skateboarders. At the X-Games, they were treated like rockstars and Way was the innovator behind the MegaRamp pushing the sport to another level.
What really makes this documentary special is Way’s resilience to defeats in his life. When he gets seriously hurt in a surfing accident, he finds the inner strength to come back from this potentially career-ending injury. It is amazing how he responds to these heartbreaks and rises to the occasion every time. It is this tenacious attitude that separates him as a true champion in the sport. As one interviewee comments, lots of people have talent but it is how Way develops it that separates him from the rest of the pack. The film is interspersed with scenes of Way mentally preparing for his legendary jump over the Great Wall. There is also amazing footage of Way being the first and only skateboarder to jump out of a helicopter onto a half-pipe ramp. You have to see it to believe it.
For anyone who doesn’t believe skateboarding is a legitimate sport, this documentary will put your skepticism to rest. It takes hours and hours of practice and at times broken bones to perfect a new jump or trick on a vert ramp. Rosenberg’s film is particularly inspirational to kids. The message is simple but powerful. Just go out there and try. Every athlete who tastes success has also tasted failure. Danny Way shows us never to give up on our dreams. ‘Waiting for Lightning’ is now available on Blu-ray and DVD at First Run Features http://firstrunfeatures.com/waitingforlightningbluray.html