There's been a few* flawless documentaries about the skateboard industry. Two are Dogtown and the Z-Boys and Bones Brigade: An Autobiography, which were both made by the guy who perhaps saved skateboarding, Stacy Peralta. In those docs, he focuses on two different teams and how each separately changed the industry forever.
That said, there are a lot of lone skateboarders still out there who shaped, shifted, and skewed the industry on their own. One of those fearless renegades is Danny Way, a man who's broken more world records and bones than corrupt politicians have laws and prostitutes. Jacob Rosenberg's Waiting for Lightning, a documentary about Way's rise to skateboard fame, fiercely tells the inspiring and often tragic story about his roots, coming from practically nothing, and how he became one of the most iconic skateboarders in history.
There are only three people on this planet who have their name engraved on the Great Wall of China. One of them is Danny Way. Lightning documents the 183 days leading up to Way's legendary jump(s) over the Great Wall in 1995. Yes, we are talking about the Great Wall of China. The film is an insightful telling of Way's life as a skateboarder, the shakes and rattles he had to overcome before becoming one of the best, and the Great Wall jump that defined his career.
Way's career is so long and he's achieved so much, director Rosenberg might as well have kept a Sticky Note in his pocket that read "Keep Calm and Freak Out" with him at all times while shooting. Like a book, there are so many moments - some monumental, some mumbo jumbo - you must cut out because there's just too much to tell and not enough room. Rosenberg manages to tighten and highlight almost all of the career-defining, and perhaps game-changing, achievements in Way's career, from the first time he stepped on a skateboard (that his biological father built him from scratch) at the age of 3, to winning Thrasher Magazine's Skater of the Year award in 1991, to jumping out of a helicopter onto a vert ramp. This is a tough, tough task, and Rosenberg pulls it off remarkably.
Way grew up dealing with a lot of heartbreak. His father was hung in prison when he was young, his mother became strung out on drugs, and his beloved stepfather, Tim O'Dea, left his mom due to her long bout with deep depression. During his rise as one of skateboarding's best, his friend and mentor Mike Ternasky passed away, along with O'Dea, who was Way's skateboarding backbone as a kid. Way has been surrounded by tragedy, but used that as fuel to push himself and boldly go where no skateboarder has ever gone before.
There's never a dull moment in Lightning. Rosenberg not once uses voice-over narration or puts himself into the documentary. Instead, he utilizes archive and current footage of Way, along with commentary from skateboarding daredevils (Christian Hosoi, Tony Hawk, Rodney Mullen, Rob Dyrdek, and Ty Evans to name a few), BMX greats, Supercross champions, and surf martyrs, along with filmographers, peers, and friends, to tell the story. This is the most captivating way to make a documentary.
And the reason why there's a diverse number of extreme sports dudes involved in this film is because Way has done it all: skateboarding, surfing, BMXing, and dirt bike racing. The dude is extreme sports' do-it-all Evil Knievel. When a film makes you feel good about your life, it succeeds. Waiting for Lightning is a true underdog story that will make anyone feel invincible, even for just 90 minutes.
*I have not seen Stoked: The Rise and Fall of Gator, but am told by numerous influential skateboarders that it's one for the books.
Waiting for Lightning opens in limited theatrical release in the U.S. on December 7, 2012. It will also be available for download on that date.
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