Danny Way and the Gift of Fear
Credit: Photograph by Hugh Kretschmer
Dysfunction: Part Two
In 1989, when he was on the verge of being expelled from 10th grade for truancy and his home life was increasingly unstable, Way quit school altogether to skate full time. Powell Peralta, however, wasn't ready to offer him a professional contract, so when he was approached about riding for H-Street, a new and edgy skater-owned company, Danny accepted. The move would prove significant and prescient. Soon, the few titanic companies that had long monopolized the industry would fall to smaller, grittier upstarts that appealed to skaters' insubordinate sensibilities. The break with Powell epitomizes what would become the defining traits of Danny's personal and professional experience, a pathological need for upheaval and an occasionally sadistic aversion to moderation. He feels most safe, most at home, when he's risking everything.

No one recognized how predisposed toward self-destruction Danny was better than Mike Ternasky, H-Street's cofounder. Ternasky was only 22, but he'd also grown up largely fatherless and saw that Danny's recklessness and the way he punished himself daily wasn't unrelated to the tumult at home. He knew taming Danny wasn't an option, but he also knew that the wildness, coupled with Danny's talent and obsessive nature, could be more than a liability. Ternasky earned Danny's trust not by asking him to share his feelings, but by pushing him to float higher airs and land more technical lip tricks, to channel his anger and confusion into his skating. Again, think Tyson. With Ternasky's guidance, Danny won his first pro contest, beating veterans and newcomers alike, and he began collecting monthly royalty checks in the neighborhood of $20K. He was 15.

And then, when everything seemed golden, Danny quit H-Street. He thought the team was getting too big and losing its edge. He couldn't abide such softness, even though he himself was making $80,000 a year before he could legally drive. For a short period, he skated on the Blind Skateboards team (with eventual My Name Is Earl star Jason Lee), but he never found the footing or inspiration he'd had with Ternasky. He placed poorly in contests and his board sales faltered. Any savings he had from the H-Street gravy train were gone. Once, while filming a skate video for his wheel sponsor, he was so broke he jumped off a 150-foot cliff into a lake for $200. And, like his brother, he started gravitating toward a more dangerous crowd, skaters who would fight the security guards who tried to run them off and then reconvene at the Way compound to drink and shoot guns. "Have you seen Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome? That was Danny's house when he was 16," says Colin McKay, one of Danny's closest friends, his business partner, and a pro skater himself.

"I look back on that time," Way says now, "and I think, How stupid were we?"

Which was maybe what Ternasky was thinking when he called Danny in 1991 and asked him to skate for a new company he was launching called Plan B. Danny, 17 at the time, signed on immediately, and Ternasky assembled the most advanced and influential team in skateboarding around his star athlete. Ternasky intended to build a skater-centered company that he could eventually bequeath to the elder skaters, ensuring that the nonconformist spirit of the enterprise would endure. Plan B became the shadow version of Powell Peralta, an unvarnished and unrivaled group of skaters that seemed both dangerous and soulful, and nowhere was that paradox more present than in Danny. Reconnecting with Ternasky ushered Danny into one of the most productive and creative periods of his career – even today, there are only a handful of pros who can land the tricks he invented in the early '90s, and no one skater can do all of them.

Then the bottom fell out from under Danny again. In 1994, on his way to the Plan B offices, Ternasky was T-boned at an intersection and died of head trauma. He was 27, and with the exception of Ternasky's wife, Danny was the last person to see him alive. The loss gutted him (the initials MT are tattooed under Danny's left arm, a tribute to his mentor). Even skateboarding, the only shelter he'd known since his stepfather introduced him to the sport, could do little to fill the hollowness he felt. The sport was itself dying, as it had a decade before, the result of increased overhead for skate parks and dwindling sales throughout the industry – board shops closed, ramps were torn down, countless pros sulked into more reliable careers or did humiliating demonstrations at amusement parks to pay the bills. Plan B closed its doors in 1995.

Then, while surfing near San Diego, Danny dove into a shallow break and snapped his neck.