Skateboard Icon Danny Way Talks Olympics and the Absence of the Mega Ramp

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This is Part 3 of my ongoing conversations about the upcoming Olympics (Read Part 1 with Josh Friedberg here and Part 2 with Tony Hawk here). Skateboarding being in the Olympics is a funny thing. Everybody has an opinion on something that has never happened. I would chalk that up to how much each and every one of us loves skateboarding as it is—pre-Olympics—and our fears, real or imagined that being a part of the biggest sports event on the planet might change that.

For this installment, I checked in with Danny Way—on the eve of him celebrating 30 years of professional skateboarding—to get his two cents on how he thinks Tokyo 2020 will affect the broader culture and specifically the counterculture of skateboarding. I also asked him—as arguably the founder of the Mega Ramp—what his response was to the absence of one at Tokyo next year. And finally, as a company owner (of Plan B and with deep ties to DC Shoes) I wanted to know how Way felt about Nike’s outsized role next year dressing the skaters from Team USA and beyond. Here were his responses.

What are your thoughts on skateboarding joining the Olympics in general?

You know, it’s cool that skateboarding has gotten that validation—that it has matured to that level. It’s cool to see—it’s been around for a long time and it’s paid a lot of dues to sort of get to this point of mainstream recognition and finally being accepted. On the other hand, the part of skateboarding that we were all attracted to was the fact that it was non-conventional, it was this subculture of society. The rebelliousness of skateboarding was a big part of what a lot of us were initially attracted to. I feel like the motivation at that level (the Olympics) and the mentality that it’s creating among the skateboarders is kind of moving away from that rebellious side and moving more toward things like athletics and a structured, machine-like mentality. Also, the big corporations that are coming in and posting up in the industry—what was so special about skateboarding was that we owned our own industry. At different times that has changed but for the most part it had been skateboarder owned.

So it’s a little bittersweet?

Yeah. It’s something to celebrate. But at the same time there are some things that are happening with the Olympics that skateboarding culture would typically rebel against in the past. I’m a little bit like “How important are the Olympics?” They’ve gotten everyone to kind of give up their morals about skateboarding culture to be a part of it. That part to me is a little like, “Okay, how far does this go?” Over time, is that aspect of skateboard culture going to be lost because of this? I don’t know, but I hope not. A lot of the younger kids that weren’t a part of the generations that were affected by that endemic culture and community and industry don’t really know what they’re missing out on or what that’s about so they don’t really have the same protective mentality to preserve that. I don’t know. We need the Phelps’s (RIP) and guys like that around to kind of blow the whistle here and there.

Tweaked Indy air, Feb, 1989. Photo: Courtesy of Grant Brittain/TransWorld SKATEboarding

Having lived through the ‘80s NSA contest model that then gave way to the video part model that emerged around ‘88/’89 and took over with Shackle Me Not, Hokus Pokus, Questionable, Virtual Reality, and onward—where do you think we’re at right now? Is the video part format still relevant? Are we in the social media format now? Or are we just in a no-man’s land with the Olympics coming?

There are still guys that are succeeding on that path. There are still some really big guys that don’t conform, like a Wes Kremer or somebody like that. He’s never going to go out and try to qualify for the Olympics. He’s not on social media. He’s so f*cking good and badass. But it takes guys like that to keep that culture, that aspect of skateboarding alive and there are a lot of people that are still dedicated to that. But with all these public skateparks and all these young kids that never really got a taste of that rebellious side coming into it. There’s going to be—and it kind of already exists a little bit—a little bit more of a line between it in the past but over the years it has gotten more grey. All of the guys that you wouldn’t have expected to compete are competing now.

Is it possible that it just makes the counterculture—the rebellious side push back harder though? Will it galvanize the “core” for lack of a better term?

It could strengthen that aspect, that’s true. There will be more separation to the point where there will be two separate lanes. As long as there is the Olympics and platforms like that, obviously there will be corporate money and some people will go that path and some guys will still go for the endemic deals. But as someone who lived through that earlier era of skateboarding like I did, that rebellious aspect has been pretty special to me and I’m definitely protective of that part of it.

danny way
Danny Way, 360 flip. August, 2008. Photo: Courtesy of Jody Morris/TransWorld SKATEboarding

As far as the terrain they’re going to have Park and Street. And some of the reasoning was that they needed enough women/girls for each event and that there weren’t enough for Mega and Vert. Do you have any reaction to Mega not being in there, since in my mind that was a terrain that you sort of founded?

Here’s my opinion, and this is just mine so I’m not saying anything is right or wrong—this is just my perspective. When I think of the Olympics, I think of—there are so many judged contests already, so many traditionally formatted contests from Street League to X Games to everything else—while the Olympics has such a nostalgic criteria of metering height and distance and speed and things like that which would bring in some classic minded Olympic events. So instead of having these two traditional judged events that we are used to doing and that there are so many contests like already—make something unique. Do high air—like Mega Ramp quarter pipe “biggest air.” They could have highest Ollie and things like that. And maybe even have a judged event too, but it would’ve been cool if they brought some of that aspect to it. Just to be different from everything already in our world and to follow the traditional Olympic theme.

That’s actually a good point.

It would make it that much cooler and it would be its own thing. It wouldn’t overlap or contrast so much with our world or be such a sellout thing if they had their own criteria and their own signature style events that were Olympic themed. On top of that they bent the rules. It used to be that you couldn’t be a professional athlete to compete in the Olympics. They seem to overlook that rule so I don’t know why they’re so hung up on the male/female thing. The only way those events (Vert and Mega) are going to progress potentially on the Olympic platform is if they get that exposure so that girls start doing it.

People also talked about the “wow” factor of the Mega and how it seems like the easiest event for mainstream audiences to understand. Do you think that’s a lost opportunity?

From a marketing standpoint for the Olympics, having a Mega Ramp would be a massive draw. I do think it’s the easiest event for people who know nothing about skateboarding to watch and understand. I think with technical street skating it’s almost like expecting a bunch of people to speak a different language without ever having heard it. Don’t get me wrong, I love watching street skating and for the most part it’s impressive to anyone who watches it.

What about traditional Vert?

Vert has a very historical place in skateboarding. Vert was what pulled skateboarding along through multiple decades. It paved the way for a long time. The excitement of Vert skating to the general public was something that helped the mainstream understand it. I understand the reasons for picking what they did but at the same time it seems to me they are the Olympics and could make their own rules if they wanted. It doesn’t seem like anybody made a big deal about the money factor—people getting paid, even though they’re supposed to be amateurs at the Olympics.

danny way
Helicopter drop, December, 1997. Photo: Courtesy of Dave Swift/TransWorld SKATEboarding

What do you tell your riders and teammates who might be going next year? What kind of advice would you give them?

Well, if you’re going to go jump on that stage and be a part of that, you may as well capitalize on it in the highest way possible. There’s no point in jumping on that stage unless you’re ready to take advantage of it. Why conform to allowing the Olympics let Nike monetize branding on the skate events otherwise? That’s something that skate culture would never have approved of or allowed in any other event.

Let me just ask you as someone who has deep ties to DC and as an owner of Plan B—as a company owner—how do you feel about every rider wearing Nike apparel for this? From what I understand all the uniforms and clothing worn will be made by Nike. Whether that person rides for Nike or not. Skaters can still wear any shoes though.

To each their own. Obviously, Nike is getting theirs and they’ll do whatever they can to take as much presence and market share as they can. But again, if this were X Games and something like this happened, I think everyone would boycott it. Nobody would compete if that were the deal.

I’m not sure how overt the logos will be, but the jumpsuits we’ve seen for Team USA definitely have a small Nike logo on them.

It’s just my opinion but if you’re going to get the blessing of skate culture at that level it might be worth working with the culture a little bit more to do things right. I think they [the Olympics] could have been slightly more courteous to the culture and also to the other brands that helped pave the way to get skateboarding to the platform that they are trying to capitalize on.

How are you doing these days with your own skating? When can we expect to see something new from you? Are you still motivated to film a part or even just new tricks? Are you healthy?

I’m good. I mean I’m never healthy [laughs]. I’m skating here and there, but I have a couple of things that I need some maintenance surgery on that I’m trying to figure out right now. I’ve been skating though. I’ve accumulated enough stuff—I have a little part that I filmed on my ramp in Hawaii that I’ve been sitting on. I’ve just been trying to figure out when to release it. It’s done though. I’m trying to make a plan with DC to release that in 2020. But hopefully I can get some surgery and get some more footage.

Is it just a physical battle at this point? Just bumping up against the limitations of the body?

Yeah, it’s not for a lack of motivation. I’m fired up to go skating and I’ve actually been skating a lot on my own. I’ve been street skating at the park. Skating the ledges and stuff like that and it’s a battle. To be honest, skating the Mega Ramp is in ways easier than street skating for me now. I know how to fall and avoid those areas of my body that are so fed up with me smashing them.

It would actually be rad to see footage of you just cruising around a skatepark and skating a ledge.

I’ve been posting some stories here and there but nothing too spectacular. Otherwise, I’m stoked on what I have for that Hawaii part. I’ve been sitting on that footage for a minute, trying to find a vehicle to put it out.

This is that big Euro Gap thing you guys had built in the documentary (Waiting For Lightning[‘12])?

Yeah, exactly I had filmed a part on that ramp. So hopefully that will be out in 2020.

danny way
Photo: Courtesy of TransWorld SKATEboarding

That was pretty much all my questions. I guess from the broad strokes perspective—are the Olympics going to make skate culture stronger or weaker?

I hope that skateboarding culture—actually I know that skateboarding culture—will be strong enough to survive regardless. It would have been nice if they were a little bit more conscious of trying to harmonize with skate culture though.

One thing Tony [Hawk] mentioned was that maybe the first pass won’t be perfect but maybe the next Olympics, maybe the second time we’ll be able to get it closer to what we want.

Like I said, any other event platform that would have come in with that mentality—if it was X Games or something—people wouldn’t tolerate some of these things people have agreed to with the Olympics.

The whole thing sounds extremely complex. Even to get it to where it is now, we’re being told they moved mountains. That it could’ve been ten times worse if they hadn’t collaborated with them or whatever.

Yeah, I’m sure it could have been ten times worse. But hopefully if it was then nobody would have shown up.

It might have been better just to have barrel jumping or something like you said. Have Wes Kremer jump some barrels?

[Laughs] But again, if they actually would have gone that route I think it would have made more sense and been it’s own thing. Like longest manual, highest air, SF style hill-bombing contests or whatever. It is what it is. I’m sure Tony [Hawk] feels the same way. It’s not really our time anymore. At the end of the day, I don’t really care because I won’t be competing in the Olympics. But at the same time, if this happened a decade ago I might have been a lot more concerned about it.

Yeah, these interviews were more just checking in with people who have had a long-term love affair with skateboarding and how they view this new thing coming in. We have the luxury of not being the people competing but I still also think it’s important to hear those opinions.

That said, there will be a lot of people who have a first perception of skateboarding based on viewing this.

Exactly, we all remember that first glimpse. Even if it was in Police Academy 4 or Back to the Future. You never forget it. These Olympics will be that Back to the Future moment for billions of people.

And the skateboarding talent itself I’m sure will be next level. They will be absolutely ripping. I think that it will look rad to the kids who have never seen it and it will still be a good representation of skateboarding. I just feel like it could be a lot more powerful if they would have used the easier to understand aspects of skateboarding for the people who don’t really understand the language. It’s going to be confusing for a lot of the people watching.

marty mcfly
Marty McFly introducing skateboarding & skitching to a whole new generation in 1985’s Back To the Future. Photo: Courtesy of TransWorld SKATEboarding

Tune into the Olympics on Friday, July 24, 2020 on NBC along with 5 billion other humans. Or don’t—and go skate a Mega Ramp a la Heath that day instead.

This article originally appeared on Skateboarding.Transworld.net and was republished with permission.


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