Willy Santos – 20 Questions

By Eric Stricker and Nate Sherwood

Willy Monaloto Santos. What more can you say about the guy? He’s been here forever and done pretty much everything that’s been done. And he’s still got that slaphappy little face he entered the pro skateboard world with fifteen years ago. And now it’s time for us to attempt to age that little mug with the following 20 Questions.

1. Eric Stricker: When you came out, you broke into the pro scene as a teenager, and back then it seemed a little more accepted as far as younger guys going pro. How do you think going pro as a teenager back then compares to the Shecklers and Nyjahs going pro today?

When the time came for me to turn pro, I basically got the coverage with videos, I did well in the contest circuit, and John Hogan from G&S decided to turn me pro. They saw the potential that I had, and when they said I should go pro, I wasn’t even thinking about that-I was just a little dude skating and having fun, and all of a sudden it just got thrown in my lap. But I guess if you’re comparing it to now, it wasn’t like, “Oh my god, a million-dollar contract.” I’m 30 years old, so before the gnarly handrail assassinations-that many of the kids coming up are doing now-I got to skate during the launch-ramp days, and I got to slappy curbs, do pressure flips, skate mini ramps, and all that. I’ve really enjoyed going through all those periods of skating.

2. Nate Sherwood: You’ve always been ahead of the game on your tricks. For instance, you have a lot of wallride variations lately that no one has. Do you attribute that to living so close to the Sorrento Valley wallride spot?

I just thought of tricks and tried to push it a little bit further. There were some tricks like, “Oh, maybe I did invent this, I don’t know.” When I was a little kid, I liked wallrides, but I wasn’t good at ’em. It was just like ho-hos-I couldn’t lift myself up. As far as me skating those now, I kind of filled a niche, something I felt I could push more than jumping down a gap or some stairs. There are already enough people who’re pushing that.

3. But you can throw yourself down stuff. Everyone’s seen you nollie nosegrind down handrails, and you were one of the first guys to have a single sequence with two tricks down handrails, so you can do that. Do you respect your health more now?

I’m not saying I’ve done every bit of handrail trick, but I’ve honestly grown out of that. I’m trying to reinvent myself, trying to skate things a little more interesting. And I respect the guys who skate rails and throw themselves down gaps, but I also respect the guys who do something a little different, or even way out in left field, like Daewon. He’s done 75 percent of those manual tricks so long ago, and now he’s pushed it so much farther and made it progress so much that now people are like, “Oh, manuals are cool.” I always loved doing manual tricks, and now they’re so much fun again. If you kick back, relax, go with the flow, and throw in something new, something else will come out. One prime example of someone like that who’s totally amazing is Danny Gonzalez-amazing. It’s skateboarding, it’s all about having fun, and that’s what I respect, and that’s what I love. Are we getting deep yet?

4. Absolutely. Speaking of deep, Anthony Robbins gets very deep. You’re a pretty big fan of him and have been caught listening to his motivational tapes on more than one occasion. Who got you into that?

I think it was my brother-in-law Raibyn, |my wife| Shalihe’s brother, who had his book, and it just looked so interesting. The guy on the cover’s just weird lookin’-big jaw, wrestler, tall guy. Whatever it said in the front must have been interesting ’cause I couldn’t drop it. You don’t have to take everything that he says, but a lot of the stuff can apply to your life and help you. Before you go to sleep, you take some notes, figure out what you have to accomplish for the next day, and it’s good. He’s amazing. I mean, I’ve nevereen to his seminars or anything |laughs|, but…

5. A lot of pro skaters aren’t always nice or are often very cliquey, but not Willy Santos. You always have a smile on your face and you’re always open to meeting new people. You’re always nice to the kids, you always treat them as equals, you always give people the benefit of the doubt. How do you do it?

Honestly, I think I was just born like that. God made me that way. Maybe it’s the Filipino way, they generally respect people. Thanks, Mom and Dad! They’ve raised me well. And I don’t try to be a kiss-ass, but it’s really from the heart. When I’m meeting someone, I’m not being fake-this is Willy Santos, I’m being real, this is me.

6. You’re also one of the most generous people I’ve ever known. You’ve bought me tons of food on road trips, never hit me up for gas, given me a board, et cetera. How did you get this rap for being this greedy guy when you’re so generous?

It’s very easy to focus on the negative stuff versus positive stuff, and I think the few little negative things that I’ve done growing up have stuck with people, and they honestly think that’s still me.

I remember a time when I was with Jeremy |Klein| and some of the other Birdhouse guys, and we were at Heath Kirchart’s house and he was like, “Oh, go ahead and grab whatever you want out of the cupboard.” And I love soup, so I grabbed a soup can. For whatever reason, everyone thought it was so ridiculous-and it was kind of funny, but I was like, “Wow, I love soup,” so I took it. And then the other guys took chocolate bars or whatever. So I grabbed the soup and somehow this is a big deal. But how many times have I heard about Jeremy leaving his job playing video games and he takes the TV monitor or something |laughs|. So yeah, I took a can of soup and Jeremy takes a TV monitor, or a leather chair, something nice like that.

But yeah, for whatever reason, I’ve been labeled the cheapskate stingy guy or whatever. There’s probably been a bunch of pros who’ve gone to Buffalo Exchange before and gotten rid of stuff. I’ve gotten rid of stuff there-so what? You’re just getting rid of some excess stuff. People don’t know, but when I actually go to the Philippines and visit my relatives, I bring a box full of stuff on top of my bag full of clothes, and when I leave there, I just leave with the clothes on my back.

7. I’ve skated your setup many times before and you’ll have loose trucks or tight trucks-no matter what, you never seem to have a problem with it. Do you think that’s something that’s just in people’s heads or are there just certain tricks that require each?

You just have to get used to your board. Some people may say it’s in the head. When I skate certain things, I’ll have to tighten or loosen ’em a bit, so it does depend on the terrain. If you rode the frickin’ DC Mega Ramp, you’re not gonna ride 50s on there. You just have to take time to get used to what you’re riding.

8. We’ve known each other for almost fifteen years-we started off as pen pals in 1991. Are there any other current ams or pros who used to write to you way back when?

Well, I know Erik Ellington’s written to me-I’m not sure how many times, but I know he’s written to me. That was when he lived in Alaska and I did a demo out there with Steve Berra and met him, but I can’t think of anyone else off the top of my head.

9. Is it true that you discovered Jim Greco?

Well, it’s not like I discovered him. At one point he was being flowed by Mike Ternasky, and I went out to the Newburgh, New York contest. I saw Jim and Tim Upson ripping the street course, and I was just like, “Wow, these guys really have potential.” So I started talking to Jim, and I thought that he and Jeremy would really click and that he’d be a good addition to Birdhouse. So I got his number and introduced him to Jeremy, and there you go. It didn’t happen just like that, it took time, but Jim’s a great skater-his talent, his personality, he’s amazing. I’m really happy for him. I honestly don’t talk to him much anymore. I just see him here or there and we say what’s up, but it’s not like we bro down or play cards or text each other or any of that.

10. Who else would you say you’ve discovered or brought up and nurtured?

I guess I can name drop a little bit. Tony started Birdhouse, and at the time I was riding for G&S and had met him a few years before that. I was skating at School W in Scripps Ranch, and he saw me skating there and was really stoked on my skating, so he gave me a business card and said, “Call me if you want to ride for Powell.” I was really psyched on G&S and I felt it was right to stay with them and be loyal, so I decided not to give Tony a call and I didn’t even tell G&S. I’m sure I told my friends like, “Oh wow! Tony Hawk!”

Another person I used to skate with a lot was Adrian Lopez. We used to skate at Serra High School, and I introduced him to June Cate, and that’s how Adrian got on Entity Skateboards. Jamie Thomas was also skating there a lot, and Jamie saw his potential and hooked him up. And there you go, Adrian Lopez.

Andrew Reynolds was riding for G&S back when I was, and Tony was like, “Oh, we need some amateurs for the team.” So I said, “How about Andrew Reynolds and Matt Beach?” And that’s how that came about.

11. You’re very loyal. You’ve stayed true to the Birdhouse family for so long now. What were the rumors that you were going to skate for World back in the early 90s?

I guess Steve Rocco or Rodney |Mullen| found out about Tony starting a new company, and I guess we were kind of like the hot item, so they were interested in me riding for World. But just seeing and feeling Tony’s personality, I felt it was right to ride for Birdhouse. And plus it’s Tony Hawk, the best skateboarder in the world.

12. Have you ever won a contest and not gotten paid?

Yeah, actually. That goes back to the Newburgh contest. I actually won both those contests back-to-back, and I think I got 400 dollars for first place |laughs|. Then the next year I went back, and for whatever reason they didn’t have the money to pay. I thought, “This is my second time here, of course they’re going to pay me.” But I said, “Just send me a check.” And to this day I’ve never gotten paid.

13. You said there was a point in time when you were a powerhouse in contests. Now that you seem to be skating as well as you ever have, why don’t we see you in contests?

That was one time |laughs|. Jeremy Klein was a powerhouse in contests, too. People don’t know that, but he was. But the contest scene, the competition side, and with being all stressed out about it, I found I’d rather just go film or shoot photos, or even just slappy a curb. I’d like to get back into the contest scene, but because of the Birdhouse video, I really want to dedicate myself 100 percent to the video versus the contest. I really want to make this a monumental part for myself, and that’s what I’m going for. It’s too bad I’m missing the contests-they look fun, the courses look amazing.

14. Through all these years on Birdhouse, was there ever a time when you were going to leave for another board sponsor or them deciding they didn’t want to have you riding for them any longer?

There was never a time where it was like, “Oh, we don’t want you on the team anymore, Willy.” There were ups and downs, and I stuck with the company. I have faith in the company. I love Tony, he’s such an amazing guy and I appreciate every single thing he’s done for me-and Jeremy and Per |Welinder| as well. It’s been amazing seeing the company grow. I’m basically Birdhouse for life. I think I’m going to get a tattoo after this interview.

15. For a lot of pros, all you hear about is how much they travel, but you probably travel more than any pro out there. For instance, you’ve been to China three times in the last year alone. What has you addicted to traveling?

It’s great to soak in a different place, being out really happy for him. I honestly don’t talk to him much anymore. I just see him here or there and we say what’s up, but it’s not like we bro down or play cards or text each other or any of that.

10. Who else would you say you’ve discovered or brought up and nurtured?

I guess I can name drop a little bit. Tony started Birdhouse, and at the time I was riding for G&S and had met him a few years before that. I was skating at School W in Scripps Ranch, and he saw me skating there and was really stoked on my skating, so he gave me a business card and said, “Call me if you want to ride for Powell.” I was really psyched on G&S and I felt it was right to stay with them and be loyal, so I decided not to give Tony a call and I didn’t even tell G&S. I’m sure I told my friends like, “Oh wow! Tony Hawk!”

Another person I used to skate with a lot was Adrian Lopez. We used to skate at Serra High School, and I introduced him to June Cate, and that’s how Adrian got on Entity Skateboards. Jamie Thomas was also skating there a lot, and Jamie saw his potential and hooked him up. And there you go, Adrian Lopez.

Andrew Reynolds was riding for G&S back when I was, and Tony was like, “Oh, we need some amateurs for the team.” So I said, “How about Andrew Reynolds and Matt Beach?” And that’s how that came about.

11. You’re very loyal. You’ve stayed true to the Birdhouse family for so long now. What were the rumors that you were going to skate for World back in the early 90s?

I guess Steve Rocco or Rodney |Mullen| found out about Tony starting a new company, and I guess we were kind of like the hot item, so they were interested in me riding for World. But just seeing and feeling Tony’s personality, I felt it was right to ride for Birdhouse. And plus it’s Tony Hawk, the best skateboarder in the world.

12. Have you ever won a contest and not gotten paid?

Yeah, actually. That goes back to the Newburgh contest. I actually won both those contests back-to-back, and I think I got 400 dollars for first place |laughs|. Then the next year I went back, and for whatever reason they didn’t have the money to pay. I thought, “This is my second time here, of course they’re going to pay me.” But I said, “Just send me a check.” And to this day I’ve never gotten paid.

13. You said there was a point in time when you were a powerhouse in contests. Now that you seem to be skating as well as you ever have, why don’t we see you in contests?

That was one time |laughs|. Jeremy Klein was a powerhouse in contests, too. People don’t know that, but he was. But the contest scene, the competition side, and with being all stressed out about it, I found I’d rather just go film or shoot photos, or even just slappy a curb. I’d like to get back into the contest scene, but because of the Birdhouse video, I really want to dedicate myself 100 percent to the video versus the contest. I really want to make this a monumental part for myself, and that’s what I’m going for. It’s too bad I’m missing the contests-they look fun, the courses look amazing.

14. Through all these years on Birdhouse, was there ever a time when you were going to leave for another board sponsor or them deciding they didn’t want to have you riding for them any longer?

There was never a time where it was like, “Oh, we don’t want you on the team anymore, Willy.” There were ups and downs, and I stuck with the company. I have faith in the company. I love Tony, he’s such an amazing guy and I appreciate every single thing he’s done for me-and Jeremy and Per |Welinder| as well. It’s been amazing seeing the company grow. I’m basically Birdhouse for life. I think I’m going to get a tattoo after this interview.

15. For a lot of pros, all you hear about is how much they travel, but you probably travel more than any pro out there. For instance, you’ve been to China three times in the last year alone. What has you addicted to traveling?

It’s great to soak in a different place, being out of your element. You’re doing something you’ve done since you were a little dude-and now you’re grown up and doing it all over again for the first time somewhere else in the world. It’s amazing.

16. Being the optimist you are, how do you and Jeremy, the ultimate pessimist, get along? It’s like you guys are the real life Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon.

I really think it’s the fact that opposites attract. Honestly, I haven’t hung out with Jeremy lately as we’ve both been filming our video parts, and he’s been on tour rappin’ with Tom Green. But Jeremy’s a character. I love him, and he’s a great friend. And knowing Jeremy, I was scared to introduce him to you, Nate. I thought he’d hate you. And he did hate you. But then he loved you because he likes dogs, Labradors, or whatever that whole thing is. So Nate, you’re the human equivalent of a Labrador.

17. How is it that you’ve made your way behind the lens of many famous clips such as Mark Appleyard’s heelflip over the fence at 7th Street and even Ryan Smith in The DC Video?

Just having a video camera will do that for you. Lately I haven’t been filming other people because I’ve been working on my own video part. I do have a video camera and sometimes I’ll hook up with a photographer like Seu Trinh and show guys spots like that Sorrento Valley ditch where Danny Gonzalez did the wallride method, which was incredible and should’ve been the cover, by the way |laughs|.

But I don’t really mind sharing my spots. Geoff Rowley called me up and asked me about School W, and I’ve known Geoff for years so of course I gave him directions: “Here you go, rip it up.” In skating, people are so cutthroat with spots. Sometimes it really has to be like that, and other times you just need to let people skate. People are always going to be one-upping each other whether they like it or not. That’s just the progression of skating. And I’m not sure what Geoff did, but one of my shop riders was like, “Oh yeah, Geoff was over at School W.” And I was like, “I know, I gave him directions.” But it is a bummer that skateboarding has to be like that. You have to go to a spot and do your whole thing and hopefully no one knows about that spot, but then eventually it gets leaked out. It’s weird, are we doing skateboarding for the love of it? Are we skateboarding for the right reasons? Especially when you hear about a skateboarder cutting the rail down so no one can skate it. That trips me out.

18. I know Tony likes to be down with everybody from every group of skateboarding, but why hasn’t he put you or Jeremy or any of his other riders in any of his video games?

Before it hit PlayStation, I remember Tony talking to some video-game company, and he was saying, “Eventually I’m going to have this video game, and I would like you guys to be in this game.” I think Reynolds was with us, Berra, and Jeremy. I didn’t really think much of it, I just thought, “Oh cool, that would be awesome to be in a video game.” That got axed, and eventually Tony did get that big deal with PlayStation and I wasn’t one of the riders. I think Tony wanted to hook up the guys who were just totally destroying it out there. I mean, it’s hard to please everybody-you didn’t have Danny Way and Colin McKay in there. It boiled down to him trying to represent all of skateboarding. But on the other side, you’d think, “Okay, I own Birdhouse, I’m going to put all my riders in it.” But it didn’t turn out that way, and that’s the way it goes.

I actually had the opportunity to be in another game called Grind Session, so I called Tony to ask him, “Okay, I have this opportunity to be in Grind Session. I would like to be in your game, but…” He never really gave me a straight answer, so I had to take my opportunity, and that’s how it ended up. In the back of my head, of course I was bummed, and I’m sure Berra and Heath were bummed ’cause we busted our balls for The End, but that’s just the way it turned out.

19. Do you ever get sick off touring?

The thing was, back a few years ago, I got sick of contests. I was getting married and was burnt out on contests and touring a little bit, so I laid low. And because I did that, a lot of my sponsors dropped me-it basically started when Vans dropped me. Drop it like it’s not hot. And that was a bummer because when I signed with Vans it was John Cardiel, Ray Barbee, Steve Caballero, Salman Agah, and then I got on the team. I was really psyched, and Simon Woodstock was even on the team, too. I was getting so much coverage and building up the team, Rowley got on, and then Dustin Dollin, and later Greco. Those guys were throwing down the crazy hammers, and I felt like I was getting pushed over. You could slowly see it happening. That’s what really hurt me the most-seeing that happen to me. And that’s what started me not entering contests and that’s when I was getting burnt on skating. At that point, I know for a fact I was in a rut. The whole jumping down handrails thing-I didn’t have the drive to try and do those types of tricks.

Ultimately, I am thankful for what Vans has done for me. It’s given me the ability to make the money and open up my shop and Tiki Hut, and get married and that type of stuff. And I’ve learned a lesson in it all. It was just business, and they did what they did.

20. You are 30 years old now, and as skateboarding and history dictate, the lifestyle can have quite the haggard, aging effect on what were once young skateboarders. But you pretty much have the same face you were introduced to the skate world with fifteen years ago. Do you feel as young as you look? Do people of Asian descent have a longer skate life?

It’s good to look young. Luckily, most Asians do have that look of being young, and I got that. As far as seeing myself as a professional skateboarder when I’m 45 years old, I don’t care so much about that. As long as I’m skating, I’m happy.

your element. You’re doing something you’ve done since you were a little dude-and now you’re grown up and doing it all over again for the first time somewhere else in the world. It’s amazing.

16. Being the optimist you are, how do you and Jeremy, the ultimate pessimist, get along? It’s like you guys are the real life Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon.

I really think it’s the fact that opposites attract. Honestly, I haven’t hung out with Jeremy lately as we’ve both been filming our video parts, and he’s been on tour rappin’ with Tom Green. But Jeremy’s a character. I love him, and he’s a great friend. And knowing Jeremy, I was scared to introduce him to you, Nate. I thought he’d hate you. And he did hate you. But then he loved you because he likes dogs, Labradors, or whatever that whole thing is. So Nate, you’re the human equivalent of a Labrador.

17. How is it that you’ve made your way behind the lens of many famous clips such as Mark Appleyard’s heelflip over the fence at 7th Street and even Ryan Smith in The DC Video?

Just having a video camera will do that for you. Lately I haven’t been filming other people because I’ve been working on my own video part. I do have a video camera and sometimes I’ll hook up with a photographer like Seu Trinh and show guys spots like that Sorrento Valley ditch where Danny Gonzalez did the wallride method, which was incredible and should’ve been the cover, by the way |laughs|.

But I don’t really mind sharing my spots. Geoff Rowley called me up and asked me about School W, and I’ve known Geoff for years so of course I gave him directions: “Here you go, rip it up.” In skating, people are so cutthroat with spots. Sometimes it really has to be like that, and other times you just need to let people skate. People are always going to be one-upping each other whether they like it or not. That’s just the progression of skating. And I’m not sure what Geoff did, but one of my shop riders was like, “Oh yeah, Geoff was over at School W.” And I was like, “I know, I gave him directions.” But it is a bummer that skateboarding has to be like that. You have to go to a spot and do your whole thing and hopefully no one knows about that spot, but then eventually it gets leaked out. It’s weird, are we doing skateboarding for the love of it? Are we skateboarding for the right reasons? Especially when you hear about a skateboarder cutting the rail down so no one can skate it. That trips me out.

18. I know Tony likes to be down with everybody from every group of skateboarding, but why hasn’t he put you or Jeremy or any of his other riders in any of his video games?

Before it hit PlayStation, I remember Tony talking to some video-game company, and he was saying, “Eventually I’m going to have this video game, and I would like you guys to be in this game.” I think Reynolds was with us, Berra, and Jeremy. I didn’t really think much of it, I just thought, “Oh cool, that would be awesome to be in a video game.” That got axed, and eventually Tony did get that big deal with PlayStation and I wasn’t one of the riders. I think Tony wanted to hook up the guys who were just totally destroying it out there. I mean, it’s hard to please everybody-you didn’t have Danny Way and Colin McKay in there. It boiled down to him trying to represent all of skateboarding. But on the other side, you’d think, “Okay, I own Birdhouse, I’m going to put all my riders in it.” But it didn’t turn out that way, and that’s the way it goes.

I actually had the opportunity to be in another game called Grind Session, so I called Tony to ask him, “Okay, I have this opportunity to be in Grind Session. I would like to be in your game, but…” He never really gave me a straight answer, so I had to take my opportunity, and that’s how it ended up. In the back of my head, of course I was bummed, and I’m sure Berra and Heath were bummed ’cause we busted our balls for The End, but that’s just the way it turned out.

19. Do you ever get sick of touring?

The thing was, back a few years ago, I got sick of contests. I was getting married and was burnt out on contests and touring a little bit, so I laid low. And because I did that, a lot of my sponsors dropped me-it basically started when Vans dropped me. Drop it like it’s not hot. And that was a bummer because when I signed with Vans it was John Cardiel, Ray Barbee, Steve Caballero, Salman Agah, and then I got on the team. I was really psyched, and Simon Woodstock was even on the team, too. I was getting so much coverage and building up the team, Rowley got on, and then Dustin Dollin, and later Greco. Those guys were throwing down the crazy hammers, and I felt like I was getting pushed over. You could slowly see it happening. That’s what really hurt me the most-seeing that happen to me. And that’s what started me not entering contests and that’s when I was getting burnt on skating. At that point, I know for a fact I was in a rut. The whole jumping down handrails thing-I didn’t have the drive to try and do those types of tricks.

Ultimately, I am thankful for what Vans has done for me. It’s given me the ability to make the money and open up my shop and Tiki Hut, and get married and that type of stuff. And I’ve learned a lesson in it all. It was just business, and they did what they did.

20. You are 30 years old now, and as skateboarding and history dictate, the lifestyle can have quite the haggard, aging effect on what were once young skateboarders. But you pretty much have the same face you were introduced to the skate world with fifteen years ago. Do you feel as young as you look? Do people of Asian descent have a longer skate life?

It’s good to look young. Luckily, most Asians do have that look of being young, and I got that. As far as seeing myself as a professional skateboarder when I’m 45 years old, I don’t care so much about that. As long as I’m skating, I’m happy.

sick of touring?

The thing was, back a few years ago, I got sick of contests. I was getting married and was burnt out on contests and touring a little bit, so I laid low. And because I did that, a lot of my sponsors dropped me-it basically started when Vans dropped me. Drop it like it’s not hot. And that was a bummer because when I signed with Vans it was John Cardiel, Ray Barbee, Steve Caballero, Salman Agah, and then I got on the team. I was really psyched, and Simon Woodstock was even on the team, too. I was getting so much coverage and building up the team, Rowley got on, and then Dustin Dollin, and later Greco. Those guys were throwing down the crazy hammers, and I felt like I was getting pushed over. You could slowly see it happening. That’s what really hurt me the most-seeing that happen to me. And that’s what started me not entering contests and that’s when I was getting burnt on skating. At that point, I know for a fact I was in a rut. The whole jumping down handrails thing-I didn’t have the drive to try and do those types of tricks.

Ultimately, I am thankful for what Vans has done for me. It’s given me the ability to make the money and open up my shop and Tiki Hut, and get married and that type of stuff. And I’ve learned a lesson in it all. It was just business, and they did what they did.

20. You are 30 years old now, and as skateboarding and history dictate, the lifestyle can have quite the haggard, aging effect on what were once young skateboarders. But you pretty much have the same face you were introduced to the skate world with fifteen years ago. Do you feel as young as you look? Do people of Asian descent have a longer skate life?

It’s good to look young. Luckily, most Asians do have that look of being young, and I got that. As far as seeing myself as a professional skateboarder when I’m 45 years old, I don’t care so much about that. As long as I’m skating, I’m happy.