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Celebrating Community: Skateboarding legend Willy Santos talks sport's growth and his Filipino culture

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Posted at 9:33 AM, May 01, 2024

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- San Diego native Willy Santos has been a staple in the sport of skateboarding, turning pro at the age of 15, joining Tony Hawk’s Birdhouse brand and now, coaching young athletes all over the world.

As we enter Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Santos spoke to ABC 10News This Morning Anchor Melissa Mecija about his career and giving back to the community.

“We moved from the Philippines. My dad was in the U.S. Navy,” Santos said. “It was at my local elementary school that I saw the older kids doing board slides on the curb and I was just so fascinated.”

Santos said early on, he was just having fun and loved learning new tricks.

As a teen, he turned pro and ended up teaming up with Tony Hawk, himself a San Diego-area native. Santos said his dad told him the renowned skateboarder called him after school one day.

“He was starting his own brand, which is Birdhouse. I was on Birdhouse for nearly 25 years,” Santos said.

Santos has competed all over the world, winning the world championships in Germany in the late 1990s.

“That was a pretty big highlight,” Santos recalled.

Currently, he coaches young skateboarders and has his own brand, Willy’s Workshop.

He marveled at how the sport has evolved, including the rise of many young female skateboarders.

“[Skateboarding] is in the Olympics now. Back then, there [weren’t] that many girl skaters, so it was kind of like seeing a unicorn skating. Now, they’re all over the place,” Santos said, commenting that the talent is amazing.

He also gives back to the country where he was born, going on an annual “Filgrimage” trip with other local Filipino leaders.

“We've been doing it for like the last seven years or so. We just help feed the needy and help build some homes out there, and I'll bring my skateboard as well,” Santos said.

He said he is fortunate to be able to do something he enjoys and make a career out of it for so long.

“I was just doing it for the pure love, and I still do, and that it’s just turned out to be that way … definitely blessed,” Santos said.