That session on the megaramp was two years ago, and what followed was actually one of the darkest, most complicated stretches in an already exceedingly complicated life. A few weeks after the session at Burnquist's, he crashed on a botched warm-up air, knocked himself unconscious, and had to be rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. A month later, at X Games 14, live on ESPN in 2008, he suffered what is widely considered one of the worst slams in skateboarding history (more on this later), losing the gold medal to Burnquist. That September, at a MegaRamp contest in Brazil, he came up short on a jump and fractured two vertebrae, taking himself out of the competition; Burnquist won again. Over the next year, Way's marriage dissolved. Then, at X Games 15, he decided against trying to reclaim his Big Air title, focusing instead on a new Mega competition he helped create, the Rail Jam, wherein the skaters launch themselves over the gap and slide or grind on a rainbow-shaped steel rail before dropping onto the bank ramp. He won the contest, but broke his ankle in the process. The injury took him out of commission for months, and then, for all practical purposes, he disappeared.
There were rumors: He'd retreated to Hawaii to build an ultra-private skate compound. He was strung out, addicted to morphine lollipops, and retired from skateboarding. He was reinventing himself as a street skater, riding alone and exclusively at night. He was on TMZ partying at a club. He was spotted in Las Vegas doing reconnaissance at the Luxor hotel, figuring whether he could skate down the side of the onyx pyramid and launch over the Strip. He was in Germany undergoing an experimental surgery not approved in the States. He was flying around the world in Tommy Lee's private jet.
No one knew anything for sure except that Way had dropped out of sight. The documentary went into hibernation. He missed interviews. Photo shoots were scheduled and rescheduled. When I called to check in, his voice mail was full and wouldn't accept new messages. On those few occasions when I could leave a message, he never called back.
And then, in early May, Way finally started returning my calls. He asked if I was going to make it to X Games 16 in July. When I told him I didn't know, he said, "You should definitely try. I'm working on something big. Like, huge."
"Oh, man," he said.
"I don't want to, you know, ruin the surprise. But remember the tricks we filmed at Bob's a couple years ago? The switch back revert? And everything else? Those were nothing compared to this."
"Those were pretty heavy," I said. "No one else has done them since."
"They were nothing," he said. "I was just clearing my throat."