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Editorial

When Danny Way Dropped Out of a Helicopter

Photographer Skin Phillips breaks down the real story from a crazy weekend of events.

Video highlights from Waiting for Lightning. Watch Danny do the heli-drop.
Posted by Neil Chester4 min read
Friday, July 12, 2019

The story of how Danny Way found himself dropping out of a helicopter ran in issue 01 of our Parade Magazine, hope you got to check it out. It's available in select skate shops or see more of it here.

Skin Phillips breaks down the story from that infamous day.

Danny came up with an idea that the physics were wrong on vert ramps, if they made a bigger transition then you could go higher on it, but you’d have to have a roll-in super high to get that first pump and speed. You couldn’t drop-in and go that high, but if you rolled in you could. He worked it out with Tim Payne, the whole plan and the physics of how to go higher. It was at an airport just for the weekend, they started it on a Thursday and it was up on Friday, at a secret location that no one knew about down in San Diego, it wasn’t a public airport. 

We went down on the Friday and it was just crazy, they started rolling around on it but the first extension wasn’t high enough. So they spent another five or six hours making it higher. The first actual skateboarding that went down was on Saturday. A lot of us were there, Dave Swift, Grant Brittain, Thomas Campbell, Kelly Bird, he was DC team manager at the time, Rob Dyrdek was there, Ty Evans was filming on 16 and 35mm film. Then it all just happened.

Danny Way Helicopter Drop 1

Danny would do a backside air, then another backside air and the third wall would be his trick. The first thing he did was a Kickflip Indy that was fifteen feet high. At that time the world record for a backside air was only twelve or thirteen feet, so straight away we knew it was special. Danny was doing this on his own too, Colin Mckay was there but he wasn’t going high, just doing lip tricks.

So that was Saturday, and then Sunday they arrived by helicopter, ‘cause DC was by Palomar Airport Road airport, so they hired a helicopter for fun. Danny was already at the ramp - Ken Block, Kelly Bird, maybe Rob Dyrdek, all came in the helicopter and they ended up using it for filming and to get aerial photographs. Then, at the end of the day when Danny had done everything and got the record highest air, he said he wanted to jump out of the helicopter. We all had to scramble to get an angle and a good position for the shot. Everyone got their position for the jump and I couldn’t see anywhere to go, all the bases were covered at every corner. So I just went on the platform opposite. I shot it first with a wide angle, then with an 80-200, so I went in super close.

Something significant has just happened in skateboarding

When I left there I was with my wife, Jo, and she said ‘that was kinda amazing right?’ Just thinking that was another day at the office, and I was like, I don’t know what happened there but something significant has just happened in skateboarding, it was a groundbreaking moment, that’s what I felt when we were driving back.

We dropped all the film off on Sunday night, it got processed and we picked it up on Monday. We all shot like thirty or forty rolls each so thousands of slides to go through. We edited all the best stuff on the Monday. I went to Matt Hensley’s house on Monday night, I always used to hang out with Matt, I was like ‘I had a great weekend, you won’t believe what happened’ and he said ‘I know what happened’ to which I was like, ‘What?’. ‘Go and look at the fridge’ he said, so I go over to the fridge and on there was Dan Sturt’s poached photo of the helicopter drop! Sturt had already processed the film, made a print and given one to Matt! It was already on his fridge door on the Monday right after! Matt was like, ‘don’t say a word to anyone’. So I didn’t. I didn’t know it was going to go to Thrasher or what was going to happen, but I knew that he’d snaked it and I couldn’t tell anyone. 

Danny Way Helicopter Drop 2

On Tuesday, Ken Block, who was in charge of the marketing of it as DC paid for it all, wanted to see all the photos, we showed him them all and he was happy. Then Wednesday was our Transworld article edit as the magazine was going to print on the Friday. On Thursday Ken Block wants to know which photo we were going to use on the cover. Well, Dave Swift had picked a photo he had shot, but Ken wanted us to run a photo of mine. He liked the crop as the DC logo would be huge on the cover, he wanted my photo but TWS said they were running Dave Swift’s photo. Dave was the Editor-in-Chief at the time. Then Ken said ‘if Skin’s photo doesn’t go on the cover, we’re pulling the whole story.’ So then they had to put my photo on the cover! Anyway, my photo ran on the cover but the caption had Dave’s Swift’s name as the photographer. I was all a bit political and weird. 

DC were furious as the Sturt photo had already run on the cover of Thrasher

By this point DC were furious as the Sturt photo had already run on the cover of Thrasher, there was a lot of uproar about that, but DC came out laughing in the end as the stories are never-ending. In my wide-angle photos, you can actually see Sturt as a distant dot in the background! I think he’d heard about it and called up the airfield, he’s a base jumper so he knew all the local airfields, they said they had some skateboard thing going on so he came dressed up as a pilot with overalls on, at one point he got quite close but none of us saw him. There’s only ever that one photo we’ve seen from a distance, we don’t know what else he got or if any other photos even exist.

The Danny Way Helicopter Drop print and other limited edition work from Skin Phillips is available on Paradeworld.com

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