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Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Updated: July 18, 5:53 PM ET
The Skate Ninja is Spiderman!

By Keith Hamm
ESPN.com

Andrew Garfield, William Spencer and Johannes Gamble.

In this summer's big-screen blockbuster, "The Amazing Spider-Man," Peter Parker is just another kid on a skateboard -- until his Spidey powers kick in. Then all of a sudden, he rides like a pro. To be sure, actor Andrew Garfield -- who plays the pedestrian Parker and his web-slinging counterpart in Sony's reboot of the franchise -- can ride a skateboard. But when it comes to tough tricks and even tougher stunts, he's got backup. While Girl Skateboards pro Alex Olson replaced Garfield on set for a couple clean flip tricks, the full-blown stunt work belongs to skateboarder William Spencer, best known as The Skate Ninja and an unorthodox style that got him a spread in Thrasher and millions of hits on YouTube.

To get the latest, ESPN.com caught up with Spencer at home in Los Angeles, just back from a promotional tour for the movie.

ESPN.com: What was your job description for The Amazing Spider-Man?
Spencer: I was hired on as a skate double for Garfield. I actually missed the first stunt audition. But as luck would have it, I ended up being called in later. I actually ended up being a pretty good double for him, height- and looks-wise. There were two other doubles, Ilram Choi and David Elson. I have been proficient at stunt work for the last few years, so I was really excited to have the opportunity to work with Andrew and the stunt team to do more than just skate.

How'd you get into such an unusual style and when did it seem reasonable that it could get you gigs on the big screen?
I don't know how to put this... um, the way I skate is the way I skate. I did a lot of skating alone so a lot of what I like to do on a skateboard comes from my own imagination, because no one was there to tell me it was wrong or stupid. I feel really lucky that I was able to experiment on a skateboard and not care what people think of it.

I never thought it was reasonable to get gigs on the big screen and I still don't. I'm always surprised when I get called to do a movie. It's a big thing to have people bank on you to make something good enough to entertain people on a massive scale. This movie made me a little more confident, so maybe doing others seems more reasonable now.

Is there a specific video that really put you on the map as the Mile High Ninja?
I have to thank my friend Jared Stoots. He had a really good part in my first skate video called Burning Daylight. Jared visited his good friend Michael Burnett [from "Thrasher" magazine], and after seeing my part in the video, Burnett decided to give me an interview in Thrasher. I was so hyped that I went out to shoot the interview and I ended up doing this trick that Burnett really wanted in the mag. That trick was at the end of my next part. The video was called "Hollarado." That's probably the one that has put me on any sort of map the most. And as for the name Mile High Ninja, Burnett actually came up with that for the interview. I'm sure he thought that was hilarious, but it actually stuck. I don't use it, but everyone else seems to.

Do have a background in gymnastics, karate, or parkour that you bring into your skating?
The only reason I know how to do flips and that kind of stuff is because when I was a kid my dad insisted that my brothers and I always had a trampoline. It's weird but I just kind of learned flips, tricks and whatever on my own and from my brothers (and from TV, I'm sure). I took karate as a kid too. I think from like age nine or 10 until 15. I actually got a child's black belt in Wado-kai karate. It's from Okinawa. So I think I got some ideas from that for sure, and probably a sense of style and what body movements looked good.

When I came out with my "Hollarado" part and "In Color" part in The Denver Shop videos I had no clue what parkour was. I'd never even heard of it. It's funny -- I'm constantly told that I am so good at combining skating and parkour. How sad and unoriginal I must seem to people -- that I would rip off something and add it to another like some fusion guy? Anyway, it does not matter. The answer is no, I never did parkour when I created these tricks. But since meeting my friend Daniel Ilabaca, I have learned a lot of useful things about parkour from him. He is the gnarliest dude I know who trains like that. It's super useful for stunt work. It can make you so well-rounded. I recommend it to get more coordination for life for sure.

What about some of the traditional stunt work you've done?
[In] The Amazing Spider-Man, I did skating, fighting, slamming, falling, and got I thrown through a wall. I also did some motion capture stuff and got to jump off a six-story parking garage. And I got lit on fire just the other day for another project I'm working on with legendary stunt coordinator Andy Armstrong.

Any upcoming movie work that you can talk about?
After this movie I'm taking some time to do what I want to do and film a new video part. I'm also working on an internet show with the Substance Over Hype crew. It will be the most creative input I've had. I'm super excited about that.

Anything you'd like to add?
Yeah, skating is so rad. I am so glad it exists, because without it I wouldn't try as hard as I do at everything else. It's still the hardest thing I have ever done. Maybe not the scariest, but definitely the hardest. Skating is gnarly, hands down. It's no child's game. I'm not the greatest at it, but I love it so I keep trying.