"I got hit by Bob Saget in a Prius!" says William Spencer.
Not once, but many times. Bob Saget. Driving a Prius. Running into William Spencer. But don't worry, folks, he's okay.
"You just roll up off the side and look like you slam hard," William explains. The stunt was for a short film or something, and "Yeah, it was pretty sweet," brags the 25-year-old over his cell phone in California, trying his best to sound casual, like getting hit by Bob "Full House" Saget in a motherfrickin' Prius is no big thingy. "Next week, I'm doing a Scientology video where I swing from a rope like a pirate. Yeah. Should be fun."
Everything William knows about stunt work, he learned from skateboarding. Or is it the other way around? Certainly anyone who saw him skateboard on the mean streets of Denver before he went coastal knows it's hard for him to separate the two.
Here's how a normal skateboarder rides down a sidewalk: He comes up to a bench, jumps over the bench while flipping the board beneath his feet, lands, then continues on his awesome way. Now imagine a skinny white kid with an affinity for dorky puns and old kung fu movies riding down the same sidewalk. When he gets to the bench, he does a walking handstand across it — and then he lands on a board that he'd placed there earlier. And then maybe he pops his board into his hand and kicks off a fence in some kind of weird ninja pirouette, and jumps off a roof for good measure.
That's William Spencer.
People tend to describe his style in hyphens, like skateboarding-meets-parkour-meets-Jackie Chan-meets...Mary Lou Retton? His style is so unique, it's hard to believe that he shares bloodlines with his older brother, Shad, a hard-skating stalwart of the Denver scene for the past decade. But isolation played a part: The younger Spencer had barely started high school at a Christian charter school in Loveland when big bro left home to skate full-time. And then there were the two years William spent on an Indian reservation in Arizona and at a flight school in Michigan, where the only skate pal he had was his imagination. When he returned to Colorado in 2004 and started skating with Shad's friends, their reactions were bemused, but accommodating. Fast plants? Early grabs? Finger flips? Wall pounces? Uh, all right. Though William doesn't drink or do drugs, he found kindred spirits, at least stylistically, among the Wetboys, especially Jerrod Saba.
"I was starting to wonder if my skating was cool," William remembers. "But then Jerrod came up to me and said he was hyped on the footage, like 'You need to keep doing it.' That's why those dudes are so legit; they clearly do their own thing and are praised for it in skateboarding."
When William's skating was featured in "Hollarado!," the skate video created by the Denver Shop in 2006, he created a buzz — but was largely relegated to the kook category among locals. It wasn't until a year later, when Denver Shop owner Tony Mellick posted his part on YouTube, that the buzz went viral, with over one million views to date. Commenters praised his creativity, and blogs called him the future of skateboarding. This was mostly a reaction to his final trick in the clip: a running front flip down a set of ten stairs in Civic Center Park, after which he lands on his board and rides away.
It was an impressive feat, but not the earth-shattering effort that some people have made it out to be. (The equivalent would be some really good amateur soccer player who scores goals by hitting the ball off his butt; players would be impressed, but it's not like David Beckham is going to start wearing ass pads.) For Michael Burnett, an editor of Thrasher magazine, where William has appeared as "the Mile High Skate Ninja" in photo spreads over the years, William's style harks back to a simpler time, "when every skate scene had one oddball who did it his own way. So I like that."
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So does Hollywood. After a talent agent spotted the YouTube clip last year, he contacted William, who was already working at a stunt show at Magic Mountain in Los Angeles. Since then, he's gotten work in commercials, as a stand-in for Orlando Bloom, and as a kind of skateboarding Omega Man in a strange Mountain Dew commercial directed by Forest Whitaker. And a television production company is hoping to sell MTV on a reality show focusing on William and members of the Wetboys; they're scheduled to begin filming a pilot later this month, after William returns to Denver.
"I envision it like a modern Little Rascals," he explains. "Just like random fun and adventures on skateboards." But he can already tell that this concept may not be what the producers have in mind.
"It seems like they want to throw in some glamour, some flashiness that isn't there, that we're completely not down with," he says. "Just like with my skating, with everything. I just can't get away being cool guy no matter how much I want to be cool guy."
But William really shouldn't worry. People once considered Bob Saget a cheeseball, too. And look at him now. He drives a Prius.