The history of skateboarding is written in tricks and locations and videos—not contest wins or X Games medals. In that way, landing a drop at some of the biggest and most famous stair sets and gaps—Wallenberg, the Gonz Gap, the LOVE fountain, and El Toro, among others—can define careers and entire eras. Those moments serve as lodestars for upcoming skaters and help evolve the sport.
A staircase in Lyon, France, is the kind of place that can make those moments. Massive in scale, its 25 steps rise from a tessellation of small bricks into a frightening edifice. No handrails scar its face. At the top, a vast expanse of the slippery, square bricks unfurls in a run-up just long enough to reach the speed required to clear the cement waterfall of a staircase.
In 2002, pro Swedish skater Ali Boulala ended his section in Flip's seminal skate video Sorry by crashing down the Lyon 25. The scene was thrilling, quixotic, and perfectly Boulala. It was a beautiful failing, an ollie down an obstacle so large that the attempt_—_not the make—became legendary. Since then, the staircase has remained one of skateboarding's holy grails, silent, imposing, and unmolested.
Sorry was the first skate video Aaron "Jaws" Homoki ever owned or watched. Jaws, now 26 and a pro skater, never imagined throwing himself into the abyss like Ali did. But Jaws became a student of the drop. Seemingly having shock absorbers for legs, he would send his lean frame down precipitous falls. These spleen-rending drops (he ruptured his spleen making the 2011 film A Happy Medium) generated rumblings on message boards, in skate shops, and at street spots that Jaws would attempt the 25.
So in June 2014 he tried. He flew down Boulala's unconquered case. According to Jaws, the drop measures 14 feet, nine inches, and the jump spans 22 feet. On the landing, he broke his board in half and tore his MCL. The injury sidelined him for six months, and the Lyon 25 was left un-skated.
Jaws began his second assault on the Lyon 25 on October 10 last year. Thrasher magazine editor Michael Burnett arranged the shoot and accompanied Jaws, Boulala, famed photographer and filmer "French" Fred Mortagne, and Jaws's father, Jason, to try again.
The stairs descend into a cement canyon formed by a building on one side and a high walkway on the other. From above, Jaws looked down on his landing zone. He then dropped off the walkway ledge, which runs alongside the 25, without his board to get an approximation of a worse-case scenario: a fall without wheels to transfer the g-force of the landing into forward motion.
"Dude, I do that all the time," he told VICE Sports from his home in Phoenix. "All of the time. Just to feel the impact.... It's a great warm-up. A really quick, jolting warm-up."
Jaws was armored for his attempts. On his left, leading side, he wore foam volleyball pads taped to his knee, hip, shoulder, and elbow to absorb the impacts of repeated pitches forward. He had worn protection while trying previous tricks, but never to this extent.
"I was definitely the most prepared on this one," he said. "I was like, Fuck this, I'm not getting some dumb little hurt. If I'm going to do this, I'm either gonna get fucking seriously hurt or not get hurt."
Learning from his first attempt at the 25, he also adjusted his board. Softer, larger wheels helped him maintain grip on the unforgivingly slick run-up and landing. In the end, the softer wheels were key to landing the drop.
For the approach, Jaws held a handrail and tree branch as he balanced on an embankment 50 feet or so from the stairs. Letting go of the branch and handrail, he bombed down the ramp, took three pushes, and launched off the top. Through the air, he held the board with his left hand—in melon grab—so as not to lose contact with it (and because he loves grabs). A staccato of cameras chattered around him as he floated through the air. He landed hard and crumpled into a roll.
"That was the most hang time I've ever felt on a trick," he said.
He repeated the jump several more times. The falls were all similar. His body weight pitched forward, and he crashed on his left side, again and again. Then security arrived. They threatened to call the police and placed metal barriers at the bottom of the stairs. The day was cut short, and the crew retreated to the hotel with the unnerving possibility that the entire mission could be in jeopardy.
Strings were pulled, and permission was obtained for Jaws to try again two days later, on Monday, October 12. After hugging his father and Boulala at the top, he attacked the 25 again. The set fought back, though, and Jaws slammed forward onto the bricks several times. On one occasion he completely lost the board from under his feet. On another attempt, the force of his landing sheared a wheel off its axle, leaving the bearings on either side somehow still in place—a peculiar display of the power of the drop.
"I've never seen that," said fellow skater Clint Walker, holding up Jaws's board in the YouTube video of the trick, which Thrasher Magazine published last week.
Jaws changed out his wheel and replaced his eighth-inch spacers—plastic pads that prevent the wheels from biting into the board—with quarter-inch ones given to him by French Fred. To reduce friction, he rubbed deodorant into the grooves that the wheels had cut into the underside of the board. His next attempt, made to screams of encouragement, was closer. He landed the drop and rolled momentarily before crashing.
"Oh my god," he said after fall. "I can do it though!"
And then he did.
He snapped off the top, grabbed the board, floated the roughly three seconds to the landing, and rolled away. His dad charged down the stairs behind him. Walker sprayed some champagne. According to Boulala, Jaws and his father were in tears.
Later, Jaws received a text message from Tony Hawk, whose Birdhouse Skateboard company Jaws skates for.
"Congrats," it said. "That is one of the greatest feats in skateboarding history."
It took days for Jaws to fully realize what he had done.
"It felt like a dream," he said. "When you think about something for that long, for over a year, and I was thinking about it every day, I would have dreams about it, and then once it comes true, in that split second, I don't know, this crazy feeling just went over me, and I honestly felt like I was dreaming."
For his father, Jason, who was not only watching his son make skate history but enjoying his first trip out of the country, the moment was similarly overwhelming.
"I wasn't all there, I think, at the moment," Jason said. "It took me a couple hours where I realized how fantastic that was. I was pent up inside a little bit by 'Wow, is he going to get hurt because this thing is big?' and obviously hoping that he would land it.... The feeling was ecstasy, and it just kept building after the moment. Hours later, it was even better."
For his part, Boulala seems at peace with Jaws rolling away from the stairs. In an interview with After Skate, he mentions that, while he feels a bit erased from history, he thinks that Jaws did a different trick, his own trick. Technically, an ollie down the 25—what Boulala attempted—still has yet to be done.
As for any future tricks on the 25, Jaws isn't sure what else the stairs could handle. The bizarre wheel incident seems to support the theory that there could be a technological limit to what can go down there. Still, he thinks that as skating evolves, in another 13 years or so, someone may be hucking kickflips down the set. But, he says, it will not likely be him.
"Oh hell no!" he said when asked if he wanted to go back.
Jaws sees other voids to cross and drops to survive. His father thinks that Jaws has yet to reach his limit.
"You know what my philosophy is on kids?" Jason Homoki said. "You tell them once the stove is hot. They venture over to the stove and you told them it's hot. They sometimes need to touch it themselves before they figure out what it is that's hot. And that's the way I let my boys see.... They very soon got to be able to test the boundaries. Both my boys are that way. Aaron [Jaws] was very good at testing the boundaries and realizing what he can and can't do.
"And to this day, he's still out there testing his boundaries, and I don't think he's reached it yet."