Willy Santos Interview

10th April 2007
Pics courtesy of Blair Alley

What ever happened to him?? Without being patronising to our younger readers, let me just say that Willy Santos was one of the best street skaters during the dark early 90’s.

He was pushing new tricks and winning proper gritty skatecomps (not your TV extravaganzas of today) with illustrious style and grace.

Then, one day, because skateboarding during the early 90’s really wasn’t a credible career move, Willy made sure he had a backup plan and opened a barbershop. Strange, but very smart despite what critics might have thought at the time. So, Willy slowly but surely dropped off the media radar, but new footage has revealed that Willy’s back and his hairstyle hiatus has proven very fruitful for some more envelope-pushing steez. Ralph Lloyd Davis got on the case and contacted Willy to see what’s up…this is what came back.

Welcome to Crossfire Willy, firstly, can we please have your full name, age and place of birth?

Willy Manaloto Santos, 31 yrs old, Subic Bay, Philippines (Olongopo City).

Where are your origins?

Philippines & San Diego, CA USA, Mira Mesa to be exact.

What was it like growing up?

I come from a big family, 1 sister-Aleth and 3 brothers- Wilmer, Wilfredo, Jr. & William. I’m the second of four boys, Wilmer being the oldest. Growing up, Wilmer used to pick on me. He would do stuff like sneeze in my face, or trick me into drinking the last glass of what I thought was Coke, but was really Patis (fish sauce). Aside from the pranks, Wilmer & I loved to play with Legos, making spaceships & robots. Aleth would always make sure we weren’t fighting. She would also help my mom with stuff around the house and baby sit the younger boys, Junior & William. My mom would always make tasty Filipino food like Chicken Adobo, Pancit, Torta, and Sinigang. My father Wilfred, who died on Nov. 16th, 2006, was in the US Navy. “I love you, Dad.”

Have you ever felt segregated or pigeon-holed as an Asian skater within the industry?

That would be a negative.

How has the southern California scene changed since your early memories of coming up in skateboarding i.e. 15 years ago to present day?

When I first got in to skating, we had just moved back from the Philippines. I’m really thankful to have started when I did, witnessing and experiencing how skateboarding has evolved into what it is now. Launch ramp days, handplants, boneless, slappies, doublesided curbs, nose bonks, bluntslide/noseblunt slides, switchstance, mini ramps vert, late shove-its, pressure flips, lateflips. I’ve witnessed even the trend of clothing evolve from tight pants, high shorts, baggy pants, white t-shirts, jeans, cargo pants, roll-up-the-pant-leg & finally back to TAPS (Tight Ass Pants).

Who did you skate with as a kid?

John “The” Man Reeves, Donger, June Cate, Jason Carney, Eric Koston, Brian Lotti, Tim Gavin, Matt Shnurr, Jason Rogers, Eric & Chad Conner, Rob Dyrdek, Duane Pitre, Anthony Olgosby, Kris Markovich, Shannon May, Daewon Song, Kyong Kim, Dan Rogers & a bunch of different posses from Mira Mesa, Scripps Ranch, PQ, RB, Poway, Ramona & Chula Vista.

What were your introductory steps to sponsorship?

My good friend, John Sapienza filmed me to make a “sponsor me” video. I was planning to send the video to H-Street, but thought I didn’t have a chance. So instead, I mailed it to Gordan & Smith (G&S), a local company that was well known around the world. Just to name a few that rode for G&S…Billy Ruff, Chris Miller, Neil Blender, Blaze Blouin (RIP), Sean Miller (RIP), Bill Tocco, Florin Bowin, Shannon May, Kris Marovich, O.G. Mike Taylor from AZ, Brian Howard, Andrew Reynolds and Matt Beach. At the time I got sponsored, the team manager was Chris “Sarge” Carter, founder of Alien Workshop.

What did it feel like to be invited to join Birdhouse?

I was really happy. Skateboarding was in a down curve again, but I knew riding for Tony would be amazing. So I quit G&S on good terms. I remember my dad telling me that Tony Hawk called and he basically told me what his plan was. Jeremy Klein, Steve Berra & I were the OG squad. Later, I told Tony to hook up Matt Beach and Andrew Reynolds. Let’s not forget Ocean Howell.

Did you know Tony Hawk already?

I met Tony skating at a local spot, he gave me his phone number, and asked me to ride for Powell. I never called him because, at the time, I was happy skating for G&S. Tony has always been my favorite skateboarder of all time.

What’s he like to work with?

He’s an amazing individual. He’s always been great to me as well as very supportive. When I got on the team, he hooked me up with a Honda Accord. It was awesome! “Thanks, Tony. For everything. I’m forever grateful to you. You’re awesome!”

Explain what sort of a phase skateboarding was going through when Birdhouse began and your first video Feasters dropped?

The industry was declining, but I was totally oblivious to it. I just wanted to skate. Huge companies including Vision, Powell, Santa Cruz, etc. were forced to downsize. Skate magazines were as small as comics. Not many companies, if any, were really advertising double page spreads. Skateparks were closing. Because of this decline, Tony left Powell Peralta to start something new & fresh, spawning Birdhouse, partnering with Per Welinder.

What was it like filming for Feasters, Untitled and Ravers videos?

Feasters was a promotional video. Tony, Jeremy Klein, Steve Berra & I would go around San Diego, filming non-stop. It was so fun & pure. Untitled was awesome because this time around, we were travelling around the world, skating new spots & skateparks.

The Firm seemed to run alongside Birdhouse from the beginning- was there ever a chance of riding for Lance’s company? I always enjoyed Firm videos. Were you sad when The Firm died?

Yes, it was a bummer. Now that Lance rides for Flip, he can just concentrate on his skating & family.

After a few high placings in competitions and a good debut as a professional, you decided to open a barber shop / skateshop. How did this come about?

My good friend, Mike Reyes, was a skateboard photographer. Along with his father Sal, he’s also a barber. It started off as a barber shop called K.A.F.E.(Kuts And Fades, Etc.). He asked me to become partners with the shop, I accepted, and it was awesome! About a year or so into business with Mike, I decided to open Willys Workshop in Rancho Penasquitos, a neighboring community close to where I grew up in Mira Mesa. K.A.F.E. is still going strong.

Why the combination of the two? Everybody eventually needs a haircut so why not have the skateshop be apart of it?

It worked both ways. While someone was waited for a haircut they can scoop up deck or some tees or the latest skate video.

Was this commercial move a back-up plan for the future?

I’ve always wanted to have my own business. With the help of my loving wife, it would have never been possible. We are also co-owners of Tiki Hut Island Grille. It’s a Pacific Island Grille (Hawaiian style with a little Filipino twist). We are opening a 2nd location of Willys Workshop in Mira Mesa.

Did you feel it was necessary to have another occupation in your life besides skateboarding? What else might you have done if you didn’t skate?

A math teacher. Yeah right, I suck at math. No, I really have no idea.

Fast forward a bit to The End era. What was it like filming for such an expensive project?

It was an awesome experience. The only thing I didn’t like was the fact that we couldn’t see the footage until it got developed.

Yes, I felt the pressure of just pushing myself.

During the release and touring that ensued The End, Jeremy Klein and Heath Kirchart got up to a lot of hijinx. Did you ever get involved in their devilish activities?

Not really. I would just watch and laugh.

Did you feel under pressure? What was it like touring with those two?

Touring with those guys will always be memorable. There was never a dull moment. Most of the time we were all having fun skating & travelling the world.

Any firework scars?

Whenever I could, I would wear the goggles that Jeremy got for us, especially when we would light them in the Burt Mobile (Van). I’m sure Jeremy & Heath have some scars.

It wasn’t long before the original Birdhouse team imploded and everyone went off in their own direction – What was the general feeling amongst you at this time? Animosity or respect?

I thought it was awesome that Reynolds started Baker. I’m really happy and proud of him. We used to be pretty good friends, but he got in to things that I wasn’t particularly in to. We didn’t have a big fight or anything of that nature, whatsoever. Basically, our friendship just grew apart. When we were younger, he would stay over at my parents’ house for a couple of weeks or so. We would skate all day & night. The last time I saw Reynolds personally was at the TWS Awards ’06. We had a few minutes to chat.

You took a brief hiatus from professional skateboarding it seemed. Just because we didn’t see you in all of the latest magazines and videos, did that really mean you’d stopped skateboarding? If you were skating, who were you with and where did you skate?

I never stopped skating. That’s exactly true if the general public of skateboarding doesn’t see you in the most recent mags or videos. They assume you’re not skating at all anymore. Little does the industry & skaters know, I’m out skating with my homies at spots around San Diego with the Workshop Team and other S.D locals.

What has your relationship been like with the various big magazines? You’re good friends with old Transworld staff, yet Thrasher made fun of you for their King of the Road contest by highlighting the allegation of you being a scrooge. Is there any truth in that?

Dave Swift shot my Check Out, Grant Brittan shot my 1st Pro Spotlight, and Atiba Jefferson always had my back for photos. They have always been great people to me. I’m really thankful for what they do for me & for skateboarding. Thrasher used to have love for me when I was younger. People always remember and focus on the negative stuff versus positive. Thrasher stated for my bacherlor party that I tried to make money? I didn’t pocket anything. So, when I heard King of the Road wanted me to give money to Zero. I didn’t want to be a part of it in any way. Besides those guys came over to my home really late at night and the very next morning I was leaving to skate in Shanghai, China. That was really lame.

As for me being a scrooge, that’s a negative. I just try to be careful & not overspend, now and while I was growing up. I guess some industry people think I’m still some kind of a scrooge. If anyone has experienced it, oh well. Can I be frugal? When I did turn pro in the early 90’s most pro’s weren’t making much at all. Considering the industry was at low point. Lots of pro’s would have normal jobs to make ends meet. I was young and didn’t want to work so to help get by I would sell some product to help pay for gas food etc when I would go skating. I remember winning pro comps & only getting like $300- 500 dollars for 1st place.

In 1995 the 1st X-Games in Rhode Island for the Street comp. Chris Senn placed 1st, Tony Hawk 2nd and I got 3rd. I only got $300-500 bucks. I’ve always try to be a giving person, but some people just like to focus on negative stuff. Pro’s get asked daily for free stuff, but I can’t hand out products on a daily basis. So as hard as it is on some days I just have to say no, but I always carry stickers with me so kids will at least leave with something in their hands.

As far as Thrasher goes we’ve kissed and made up. I have no hard feelings with them. It started when I decided to sell my house and buy a new one with my soon to be wife. My roommates didn’t want to break up our living conditions (skate house). Its not like I kicked them out. I told them my plans and gave them all enough time to make other living arrangements. From there things got sour. They would call up their friends at Thrasher and talk about me. Plus who really likes their landlord?? We’ve all grown up and learned from it.

You recently re-appeared on the media radar with some wicked sequences that mixed old skool and new skool skateboarding? Was there a message behind your new approach to skateboarding?

I was really happy with how the TWS 20 Questions Interview turned out. My message was… I’ve been trying to think out of the box with my abilities. I would dig in the crates of tricks what I’ve done before & expand to new ones that I’ve never done before.

What sort of terrain are you skating nowadays?

I’ll skate anything. Lately, I haven’t been in to jumping down big gaps or rails. If I like it, I’ll go for it. I just try to be creative with my skating especially when I go filming missions & photo shoots.

What can we expect to see from you in the future?

For video projects in the near future, Willys Workshop is coming out with “Film This.” the new Birdhouse DVD will come out some time after. I don’t know the title, otherwise I would tell you, but you can watch it above. ^ I’m currently working on the 2nd location of Willys Workshop in Mira Mesa, and my online mailorder for Willys Workshop has finally launched. Check Perhaps Willys Workshop will go international. Time will tell…

Willy’s Top 5’s

Top 5 films

1. Meals On Wheels (Jackie Chan movie)
2. All Star Wars Films
3. Goonies
4. Bakaroo Banzai
5. Napoleon Dynamite

Top 5 skate vids

1. Animal Chin (Powell Peralta)
2. Rubbish Heap (World Industries)
3. Useless Wooden Toy (New Deal)
4. Video Days (Blind)
5. Now & Later (Planet Earth)

Top 5 CD’s

1. Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band (Beatles)
2. The Low End Theory (Tribe Called Quest)
3. The Immaculate Collection (Madonna)
4. Michael Jackson
5. Best of Bowie (David Bowie)

Your fave pro graphic so far?

Here’s the photo of my favorite skate graphic of mine… Its was my Birdhouse deck back in 1993

Thanks Willy. That’s all we’ve got for you.

Thanks for this opportunity. Love & Respect each other. Enjoy skateboarding & God Bless.

Watch old school footage of Willy here. and win a Birdhouse Santos pro model in Competitions this month here. Look out for Willy at the brand new website.