Waiting for Lightning: Skating Around Topics

By the time he was 18, Danny Way had changed the course of skateboarding so sharply that an entire generation of pros found itself jobless. The skater is profiled in this informative documentary, screening as part of the PHI Centre’s Skate or Die series.

Last January, when the first trailers for Waiting for Lightning, a feature-length documentary about professional skateboarder Danny Way, surfaced, most skaters over 30 likely asked the same question: Will the film cover the alleged hate crime — the murder of a gay man in Los Angeles County — to which Way was tied?

Back in 1993, Way and two friends, Steve Mateus and Josh Swindell, were drinking at a bar in Azusa, Ca., when Keith Ogden allegedly began hitting on the trio. The details are murky, but Ogden was killed by way of a brick to the head, and Swindell — who earlier that year had done a stretch in a Mexican prison after being caught with a gun in the van he was travelling in — took the rap. Way escaped charges, but rumours of his involvement in the murder continue to fly on skate message boards.

The incident, however, is not so much as glossed over in Waiting for Lightning, Jacob Rosenberg’s chronicle of Way’s life. But if anyone is capable of turning the 38-year-old’s 23 years of professional skateboarding into a 90-minute narrative, it’s Rosenberg, a skate filmer-turned-filmmaker who has been shooting Way since the late ’80s.

And Way’s career is indeed remarkable. The kid whose dad died when he was an infant, and whose stepfather introduced him to skateboarding, turned pro at 15, his perseverance and penchant for progression unmatched at the time. Rosenberg, with the help of figures like Way’s mother, brother Damon (a co-founder of the hugely successful DC Shoes) and friends like seminal skater Matt Hensley, among others, guide us through his tumultuous childhood in Vista, Ca., his early success and his legendary skate feats — like jumping the Great Wall of China in 2005, the doc’s thematic centrepiece.

But while Way’s story is compelling (especially to me, a skateboarder for 23 years), Rosenberg’s filmmaking, though largely skilful, is at times clunky. For whatever reason, he chose to illustrate aspects of his subject’s life — his childhood, his recovery from a broken neck sustained while surfing — through dramatic re-enactments. Nevertheless, we do see enough footage of Way and friends as impulsive adolescents, partying and breaking shit, to satisfy even the most jaded 30-something’s inner 12-year-old skater. And we do learn about parts of his past that he has sometimes been guarded about, like his mother’s drug use and the abuse his family suffered at the hands of her boyfriends.

Waiting for Lightning may not be a complete portrait of Danny Way, but it comes pretty damn close. Jacob Rosenberg clearly has a great deal of respect for his subject, who by 18 had changed the course of skateboarding so sharply that an entire generation of pros found themselves jobless. Skaters will definitely like seeing Way as an unsupervised teen living an at times comically reckless life. And non-skaters will probably enjoy that, too. ■

Waiting for Lightning screens as part of the PHI Centre’s Skate or Die film series tonight. PHI Centre (407 St-Pierre), Tuesday, Oct. 2, 7:30 p.m.

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