IF, AS THE Chinese proverb goes, you're not a great man until you climb the Great Wall, what do you call someone who skateboards right over the top of it? Skate kids around the world call Danny Way their idol, and with good reason. Adding to his two other world records, the Californian has become the first person to successfully leap the wall on a skateboard, achieving the feat at Juyongguan, a section of the wall 40 minutes' drive from Beijing. An unlikely gathering of Chinese officials and thousands of diehard skate kids turned out for the event last Saturday, each eyeing the other suspiciously while cheering on Way. Despite his past triumphs, no one was sure if he could do it. The last time someone attempted such a jump - on bikes in 2002 - one rider died of head injuries, although another made it over. Rob Dyrdek is one of the world's top street skateboarders and part of Way's large and vocal entourage. 'Man, I was so nervous for him,' he says in a Californian drawl. 'He's doing fine, but the rest of us ... We know how difficult the stunt is to do.' For 31-year-old Way, picked last year as one of Outside magazine's 'Coolest People to Know', the jump was the highpoint of his career. He injured himself during a practice session the day before and had to limp off the run, but he went for it anyway. 'My brain or heart needed to stop before I'd have cancelled the jump,' he says. 'It meant that much to me.' Way thought up the idea for the jump last year when pondering his next challenge. Nine months later, the US$500,000 MegaRamp, the largest skateboarding structure built, was a stunning sight in itself. A small army of labourers toiled around the clock in Beijing's blisteringly hot weather in the months leading up to the event. The workers, from the local area, were there for Way's attempt and gave him some of the biggest cheers as he climbed up the ramp for the jump. With just a helmet, kneepads, long-sleeved T-shirt, shorts and trusty DC shoes to protect him, he began his descent 30 metres above the ground, reaching speeds of about 88km/h. He cleared the wall and reached a height of more than 18 metres, before landing on the world's largest quarterpipe at 10 metres. Despite his sinewy, tattooed exterior, Way seems more of a devoted family man than action man. After his record-breaking jump, he broke down when hugging his wife, as one of his young sons looked on. As he stared down the 30-metre slope, Way says his son was the thing he thought of before taking the plunge. 'I do this for him. When I look at him and see him so excited, it was like I was seeing a little me there. One day, I think I'll be watching him doing this kind of thing - it was a special moment.' Born in Portland, Oregon, but raised in San Diego, Way was just six years old when he started aping his older brother, showing off his skills at the Del Mar Skateboarding Ranch. He turned professional and picked up sponsors when he was just 14, and since then, like one of his runs, his career has been a series of highs and dizzying drops. By 1991 he was well on his way to skateboarding superstardom. He began winning pro contests and at 17 was named Skater of the Year by Thrasher magazine, the industry bible. Three years on, however, it looked as if his career had tumbled to a halt. He was injured surfing and became partially for more than a year because of damage to his brain stem and spinal cord. As a way to focus his mind during rehabilitation, Way designed the first MegaRamp, to be built in his backyard. Confounding his doctors, Way was soon back on his board and, just to prove he was still one of the sport's most innovative stars, jumped out of a helicopter onto a halfpipe in 1997, and again in 1999. His MegaRamp was finally built in 2002 - and then on an even bigger scale the next year. Way went on to set world records in distance achieved in a jump (23 metres) and height above a ramp (seven metres). He then broke his own world record at the 2004 X Games, upping the distance record to 24 metres. He was the only boarder there with the nerve to roll into the ramp from the highest section. For this, Thrasher magazine again chose him as Skateboarder of the Year, making him the only person to win the accolade twice. But he says his achievements don't compare with what he did at the wall. He didn't get any money for the jump and insists that he did it for the love of the sport, wanting to spread the gospel of so-called big-air boarding to a Chinese population, yet to embrace extreme sports. At first glance, the laid-back sport and China don't seem to be a natural combination. The clash of cultures was clear as security guards at Juyongguan stared with astonishment at girls in bikini tops and guys wandering around in baggy shorts. But by allowing the jump to take place over one of the country's treasured symbols, the authorities seem to be saying that they're ready to tolerate a pastime that has often been driven by a rebel spirit. China's state-sponsored system has been criticised for piling the pressure on athletes, and focusing on producing winners at the expense of personal happiness. But the sport has its government backers. During a ceremony after the jump, Wang Jianjur, the local co-ordinator of the project and head of the Ministry of Culture in China, seemed overcome with excitement and presented Way with a small piece of the wall to take back to California. 'The impression that I would like to leave on the people of China is that skateboarding is not just a toy or a fad,' Way says, relaxing afterwards with a beer. 'Skateboarding is all about freedom and self-expression without boundaries or restrictions.' Guan Mu, who set up Beijing's first skateboarding club in 1990, thinks Chinese parents, rather than the authorities, need to be convinced about the pros of skateboarding. 'Although X Games are on the rise in Beijing, they're developing slowly,' Guan says. 'Parents in China think their children should avoid these dangerous sports.' But Way says the risks of the sport are overstated. 'I constantly set out for new ways to challenge myself,' he says. 'Of course, there's a danger in what I'm doing, but kids aren't going to be doing the same kind of stunts as me.' The Extreme Sports Association says there are about 6,000 serious skateboarders on the mainland, but Raph Cooper, who came to Shanghai in the 1990s to ride on the skateboard bandwagon, disagrees. 'At the moment, there are only a handful of Chinese boarders that can compare with American amateurs, let alone the pros,' he says. 'They are just way out there.' Cooper, who runs The People's Skateboards, a company selling boards and clothes, hopes Way's jump will showcase skateboarding to a new audience. Cooper says the market for boards and baggy skater shorts is about to explode. 'The fact that companies and the authorities are willing to put up a bunch of money is really cool,' he says. 'It just shows the global interest in China.' Other industry figures agree with him. Way's main sponsor, Quiksilver, has announced plans to open 20 stores on the mainland by the end of next year. Way's jump comes just as mainland boarders are getting their own world- class park to practise in. The world's largest extreme sports area will soon open in Shanghai's Yangpu district. The 2.7-hectare, US$7.2-million park is designed to be a centre of excellence and will host national and international-level tournaments. All Way wants to do right now is get home. He says he's not sure what his next challenge will be. 'Actually, right now, I'm jealous of Chinese skateboarders,' he says. 'Everything in California has been done. Here, it's all unexplored terrain.' He says he'd like to see new parks spring up, including one at the Great Wall. 'I think it would make a pretty amazing permanent skate park,' he says.