Gnarly stunts, little depth in Danny Way skateboarding doc 'Waiting for Lightning'

Courtesy PhotoBig-time: Danny Way

Skateboarder Danny Way is a daredevil from a broken home — that’s the main message in the documentary “Waiting for Lightning.”

Bay Area-based director Jacob Rosenberg — who has been filming skateboarding for decades — aims to serve up a pithy examination of what motivates the seemingly fearless extreme athlete.

Plentiful interviews with Way’s mother, drug-addicted and absent for much of his young life, and members of the Southern California skateboard community who adopted him in the 1980s attempt to reveal that his interest and acumen for the sport somehow were related to the lack of parental supervision throughout his childhood.

Yet little dialogue from Way himself — whose father and other male mentors died in their prime — solidifies the theory, giving the film a surface feel. Despite the filmmaker’s attempt to portray him as spiritual and visionary, Way doesn’t come off as a particularly complex or thoughtful character.

Of course, his physical feats are extraordinary.  

There’s no shortage of footage of his fancy, groundbreaking, record-setting skateboarding moves — clips from when he was a teen are pretty cool — as well as talking-head commentary from fellow pro skateboarders who revere him and prove his importance to the sport.

While there’s not much plot, the film centers around perhaps Way’s biggest accomplishment: a dramatic 2005 jump over the Great Wall of China that required the construction of massive ramps the likes of which would never be seen in the United States.

Yet when he actually makes the jump — twice, he survives a practice run the day before the actual planned event — it’s surprisingly anti-climactic. The fact that he is the first Westerner whose name is engraved on the wall is almost as interesting as the feat itself.

Even though “Waiting for Lightning” doesn’t succeed in its attempt to showcase an all-encompassing journey of a person who changed the world, or truly reveal what drives people to take on crazy, death-defying  challenges, it does  boast some major, gnarly stunts  that are hard to ignore, even by people who aren’t into extreme sports.

lkatz@sfexaminer.com

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