tampabay.com

New stars of stunts

Daredevils Mike Metzger, Danny Way have pushed limits in death-defying ways.

By BOB PUTNAM
Published July 18, 2006


Mike Metzger hit the ramp at rocket speed and vaulted into the sky, backflipping along the way.

Then he stuck his landing as the crowd erupted in a frenzy.

Metzger , 30, broke the world record for the longest motorcycle backflip. He and his 225-pound bike flew 125 feet over the fountains at Caesars Palace in May.

“Everyone pushes the limits in Vegas,” Metzger said afterward.

Especially action sports stars.

Metzger’s jump wasn’t the first death-defying stunt this year.

In April, skateboarder Danny Way set a world record by successfully landing a 28-foot “bomb-drop” off the neon-decorated guitar outside the Las Vegas Hard Rock Hotel and Casino and onto a ramp below.

That was nothing compared to Way’s jump last year, when he took off on a 55-mph run down a ramp that carried him over the Great Wall of China, setting Guinness world records for the longest leap, highest air and fastest speed in a skateboard jump.

So what’s next? The Eiffel Tower? Stonehenge? The Golden Gate Bridge?

“I guess anything is possible,” Metzger said.

Metzger and Way are the Evel Knievels of this generation, each continually pushing the definition of extreme.

***

ESPN built a one-hour show around Metzger’s stunt.

It was called “The Impossible Jump.”

Three people tried to clear the fountains at Caesars Palace before Metzger.

Two nearly lost their lives.

Evel Knievel was the first to attempt it in 1968. He crashed at the landing and spent 29 days in a coma.

Gary Wells tried 12 years later. He ruptured his aorta and fractured his pelvis, thigh and lower leg.

Knievel’s son, Robbie, made history by clearing 150 feet over the fountains in 1989.

But those jumps came without frills.

ESPN wanted someone to not only clear the fountains, but also do a backflip.

Carey Hart and Travis Pastrana turned down the request.

That’s when Metzger came through.

“I always thought it would be cool to do something like that,” Metzger said. “Only a select few can say they have tried that before.”

Metzger is hell-bent and heedless in his pursuits. He often pays a price. He has broken his back three times, and his kneecap once.

“It takes a different kind of athlete to do this,” said Metzger, whose body is adorned with tattoos, including one on the inside of his mouth with the word pain. “You have to put up with a lot of injuries.”

But the jump over the fountains was off the chart on the insane-o-meter.

“The worst thing that could happen is I could die,” Metzger said.

Nerves started to kick in. That’s when Metzger decided to call Evel Knievel, who lives in Clearwater.

“It was good to get words of wisdom from (Evel),” Metzger said. “He told me to never do a jump I’m not confident about, especially for the sake of entertainment. He said think about your family first. I don’t think I would have been as comfortable without talking to him.”

Metzger decided the jump was worth the risk. After he landed, he searched for his wife, Mandi, and two daughters, Michaela and Myrie.

“I was overwhelmed,” he said.

Metzger doesn’t have any more bravura-testing stunts in the works. He is currently competing in the Dew Action Sports Tour.“I’m not looking to jump off the Grand Canyon or anything,” Metzger said.

He’ll leave that for Way.

*** 

Way has taken his sport to new heights. He once jumped 35 feet out of a helicopter onto a vert ramp.He also built the Mega Ramp, a towering structure that features a 75-foot gap between the takeoff point and landing area. The ramp became such a hit, the X Games built a similar one and now has an event called big air.

“Danny’s got his own thing going,” Metzger said. “He looks to go a lot farther than most people.”

Still, Way doesn’t want to be known simply as a skateboarding stuntman.

“Danny’s biggest goal is to expand people’s mind as to what’s possible on a skateboard,” said Darryl Franklin, Way’s agent.

***

In this era of action sports, athletes are willing to rachet things up.

That means records don’t last.

In June, Jeremy Stenberg backflipped 155 feet on his motorcycle to become the new record-holder.

“It’s okay,” Metzger said. “I’ll hit it hard and learn some new tricks. But the biggest thing now is to stay healthy.”