Half Pipe Dreams

08.21.13

The Fall and Rise of Skateboarder Danny Renaud

Out of a Tampa skate park, he worked hard and became a sensation—until a nine-story fall nearly ended his career. Michael Daly on Danny Renaud’s hard-earned comeback.

If the downfall of Alex Rodriguez leaves you pining for a true sports hero, try skateboarder Danny Renaud. He is equally talented, but he’s also devoutly honest and manifestly decent—and so resolute as to return to greatness after shattering both his legs in a nine-story fall.

The fall was five years ago from a balcony on the 19th floor of a Miami apartment building, where then-24-year-old Renaud had fallen asleep after a party. He still has no memory of exactly how he came to topple over the railing, though there is no doubt he would have been killed had he not hit another railing on the way down and then landed on a 10th-floor pool deck.

Renaud only remembers being roused back to consciousness by a building employee who discovered his sprawled form and told him he could not sleep there. Renaud tried to stand, but found that the legs on which he had become a skateboard sensation had turned to something out of a cartoon gone surreal.

“When your legs are all Jell-O,” he says.

At the hospital, the trauma team noted that both legs had multiple compound fractures. The left was a gory mess. The right was even worse.

“They told me, ‘You know, you might have to start getting used to the idea we might have to amputate your right leg,’” Renaud recalls.

The right leg was saved, but the pieces had to be held together with an exoskeleton of wire and screws, called a halo, for two years.

“I basically had to learn how to walk again,” he says.

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Danny Renaud (Frank Galland)

The question was whether he would be able to continue with what had been his guiding passion since he hopped on a Back to the Future skateboard as an 11-year-old in Lakeland, Florida.

“My brother had a Batman board,” Renaud recalls, “It was the ’80s, man.”

The original impetus had been simple enough: “There’s nothing else to do.”

He proved to have a natural talent for it and became better and better. What had started out as just something to do grew into something to do. He became a Lakeland star the same way baseball greats such as Joe Pepitone, Al Ferrara, and Rusty Gates came out of Brooklyn sandlots. He had the same mesmerizing grace of somebody doing what they were born to do and loving every minute of it.

“When your legs are all Jell-O,” he says.

“You fall in love with it,” he says. “As soon as you fall in love with it, you never stop.”

He divined the key to greatness in skateboarding.

“It’s all about style, getting an idea and turning it into a reality,” he says.

Not that it came to him without many spills and scrapes. One video shows him take a tumble while attempting a maneuver, try it again, and then tumble again.

“It comes with the territory,” Renaud says.

He succeeded on the third try, executing it with that particular Renaud style that made it seem effortless. He rode on into stardom, once a perpetually broke kid who slept behind a Tampa skate park when he could not get a ride home, and now a pro skater making enough money to live a dream.

“Able to eat and skate,” he says.

Then came the big fall off the balcony. The internal injuries cost him his spleen and part of his pancreas, but he could skate without those. He needed his legs.

“I wanted to do whatever I could to get back,” he says.

The halo on the right leg finally came off, and the day arrived when he stepped onto a board again. He was not worried about his legs themselves, for he had been told that broken bones are even stronger after they mend. The problem was that his right ankle just did not extend and flex as it had.

“My right foot was not working as it should,” he recalls.

He consulted a doctor, who told him there was nothing to be done. A second doctor suggested it might be possible to extend his Achilles tendon.

Renaud gave it a try, but there was no way to know how successful it had been until he had extensive physical therapy. And he had only limited funds to pay for it.

A blessing then materialized in the person of a physical therapist in New York. He was named Dan Park, and after examining Renaud, Park stopped into his neighborhood skate shop.

“They’re like, ’Oh, you’re working on Danny Renaud? We know him,’” Renaud says.

Park told Renaud there would be no charge and made a promise. “We’re going to get you back on your board, 100 percent.”

Park pushed Renaud to push himself despite the pain for month after month.

“He got me going,” Renaud says. “He basically saved my life, saved my career.”

Renaud got to where his right foot was actually better than it had ever been.

“What they did was accidentally make it perfect for skating,” he says.

He was in New York and Miami this summer, back to working his magic five years after the big fall, hitting all the boroughs, but especially enjoying the tonier areas with lots of marble and granite.

“The more expensive the architecture, the more we want to skate it,” he says.

At 29, he is again one of the top skaters, riding pro for Politic boards, which has one bearing his name.

If you hear the sound of skate wheels followed by the sudden silence of a board going airborne and then the clatter if it landing, you just might see an actual sports hero in this dispiriting era of A-Rod.