One of Shenzhen’s true OGs, Eric Lai is best known as the founder of Vagabond Skateboards, the first team manager of Converse’s China Skateboarding team, the founder and editor-in-chief of Wandering Magazine, and most recently, the owner and developer of a soon-to-be-finished indoor skatepark in Shenzhen.
Shenzhen – The Early Days
Eric Lai grew up in Shenzhen, but his family is from Maoming. His dad was a military man and drove tanks during the China – Vietnam war. In the early 80s, after the war, his family relocated to Shenzhen. In 1999, Eric started skateboarding, and not long after, he got sponsored by a local shop called BO3.
His life was quickly consumed by his love of skateboarding. Approaching his early 20s, he realized that he wanted to make a livelihood from skateboarding. “The only way to keep skating and deal with regular jobs was to open up skate shops. So that’s what I ended up doing. I was first sponsored but never got paid by it. So opening a shop was the only way,” says Eric. In 2002, he opened his own skateshop in the Bao’an district of Shenzhen. The shop only survived for one year, but at the time he also worked as a salesman for Feidian – a company which produces trucks, wheels, and other hardgoods. “My sponsor at the time was Feidian. I was also a dealer for them. Business [at the skateshop] was bad, but I got an opportunity to actually work for them as a salesman. My only request was to come in the morning, but have the afternoons off.”
Over time, Eric looked for other opportunities in the skate industry. “As I got older I saw a different way with skateboarding. I got a bit more mature, and I was looking for new opportunities. I left [Feidian]. I think the news got out. Jeff Han from Fly contacted me, and asked me to come to Shanghai and work with him. At the time (2008 ish), he was the distributor for DC in China. He wanted me to come out to do marketing and help him out. I said ‘yes, for sure’ since I always loved Shanghai. It was kinda the center of the scene in China.”
Vagabond, Running a Skateboard Company & Hobo Daze
Vagabond和 Hobo Daze
Eric lived in Shanghai from 2008-2013. He worked at Fly, and he also worked for Converse as the manager of their skate team. It was also during this time that he started Vagabond Skateboards. A vagabond is a person who wanders from place to place without a fixed home. That was a lifestyle which resonated with Eric. “As a skateboarder back then, you did a lot of couch surfing and moving around. You go to a city to hit spots, and you stay with friends or skaters you meet.” Eric wanted to channel that lifestyle into a skate brand. He also derived inspiration from manga. “I was really into Japanese manga too, and there was a cartoon named Vagabond that I thought was a cool name, so I named the brand because of that as well.
Another reason Eric started Vagabond was so that he could support fellow skateboarders. “I always wanted to start a company to get all the homies I grew up with together. We could hang out, make videos, and product too.” He sponsored Cyres Wong (who now runs Boardhead), Alex Huang, Afro (who now owns Shaka surf shop in Hainan), Keng Qu, David Chu, Jay Meador, Elliot Zelinskas, Eddie Lai (his brother), Arrow Ng, and Da Shi. Eric made boards, and he and the team marketed the brand via events and videos. They took trips throughout China and Asia, and Charlie Lanceplain (co-founder of Push Media) helped them document the skating. Hello my Friend documented a 2-week trip across Vietnam and Cambodia, and Hobo Daze Tour documented a tour they did of Hainan in 2013.
赖科创办Vagabond的另一个原因是，他可以为其他的滑板爱好者提供支持。“我一直想创办一家公司，让所有和我一起长大的朋友都聚在一起。我们可以一起出去玩，拍视频，也可以做产品。” 他赞助了王汇丰(Boardhead的经营者)、黄剑沣，张威(大鸟，海南Shaka冲浪店经营者)，都明根(坑渠), 储卫(小鸡), Jay Meador, Elliot Zelinskas, 赖伟(啊拉)，箭猪和大世。赖科开始生产滑板，他和团队通过活动和视频来推广这个品牌。他们走遍了中国和亚洲，Push Media的联合创始人Charlie Lanceplain帮助他们记录下了滑板的过程。《你好，我的朋友》记录了他们在越南和柬埔寨为期两周的旅行，《Hobo Daze Tour》记录了他们2013年在海南的旅行。
Starting in 2011, a few years after he started Vagabond, Eric started organizing a yearly event called Hobo Daze. A hobo is a homeless person (like a vagabond), so the idea behind the events was to live like a homeless person for a few days, albeit with less panhandling and more fun. During Hobo Daze, people gathered in Shenzhen to surf, skate, hike, and camp. “[Hobo Daze] has its good run,” says Eric. “Hopefully it inspired people. The spirit goes on.”
在赖科创办Vagabond几年后，他从2011年开始组织一个名为“Hobo Daze”的年度活动。”Hobo”指的是无家可归的人，就像流浪汉一样。所以这些活动背后的想法是体验像无家可归的人一样生活几天，虽然不用去乞讨，但真的带来了很多乐趣。在Hobo Daze期间，人们聚集在深圳冲浪、滑板、徒步和露营。“Hobo Daze”的活动运营得很好，希望它能激励人们，精神永存。”他说。
Eric doesn’t produce as much Vagabond product as he once did. Eventually he shifted his focus towards Wandering Magazine. But he’s in a unique position to comment on today’s China skateboard market, which is a different place than it was in the 2010s. In the past, there was a common marketing model: skate team, videos, demos. But with the advent of social-media and online-shopping platforms, the go-to model changed. “If you want to start a board company, you have two choices: you can run a company to make money, or you can run a company with a good image,” says Eric. “If you want to make money, just follow trends – no skate team. People might think you’re wack, but it works here. It’s kinda sad though, but it works out here.”
The trend that Eric is talking about are short videos and no skate team. The reason that Eric thinks that model is sad is because it doesn’t give back to the greater skate community. “You don’t see videos getting put out as often as in the past, despite so many board companies now. You don’t see the longer, better edited videos. For [Vagabond], we care about skateboarding, and we would never do that.”
A larger market might cause dilution of skateboard culture – the skateboard culture of the 90s and early 2000s – but Eric sees reason for hope. “Lots of people think [teams, videos, and events] are what the old guys do, but newer ones are doing it too. SAGA is killing it with the videos.”
In 2017, Eric and a team of translators and photographers started Wandering Magazine. The magazine printed issues quarterly, and translating was done by Mitch Childs and (English), William Will (Chinese), Daisuke Katayama (Japanese), and Wonseok Lee (Korean).
2017年，Eric和他的朋友们创办了《Wandering》杂志,这些人里有的是翻译家有的是摄影师。这个杂志每季出版一期，它的翻译团队由来自不同国家的人组成。(英文：Mitch Childs；中文：Willam Will；日语：Daisuke Katayama;韩语：Wonseok Lee)
Before starting the magazine, Eric was inspired by South Korea’s The Quiet Leaf magazine. “[Jin Yob Kim from Quiet Leaf] did a China issue. It was in Chinese, Korean and English. It inspired me to do something similar – to put out a regular magazine [in multiple languages]. Nobody had done a magazine that focused on skateboarding in greater Asia. I had the background,I had worked for Converse, and I had the connections. I thought – why don’t I just do this. But it was 2018, and magazines were dying. People thought I was crazy to start a magazine,” recalled Eric.
赖科创办这本杂志的灵感是来自韩国的《The Quiet Leaf》杂志。”《The Quiet Leaf》的主编Jin Yob Kim做了一期中国专题。它是用中文、韩语和英语写的。这启发了我想做类似的事情——出版一本多种语言的杂志。在那时，还没有人做过一本关于亚洲滑板运动的杂志。我有经验，我在匡威工作过，我有人脉。我就想，不如我来吧。但那是2018年，杂志正在走下坡路，人们认为我在这个时候创办杂志是疯了。”他回忆道。
Wandering published their first print issue in February 2018. They quickly scaled the distribution. Their 3rd issue was in shops all over Asia and had ads from big-name brands like Casio and Vans. The cover photo of the September 2019 issue was a photo of Tiago Lemos in Chengdu. Still, running a print magazine in a digital era was no easy feat, and Covid-19 brought additional challenges. “Because of Covid, most of the trips got postponed, and skaters and photographers couldn’t meet up and travel. It was really hard to get good photos. And because of lockdowns, sponsors had no budgets, so it was really hard [to get ad money],” says Eric. Because of these challenges, Wandering took a break from publishing. Their last issue (issue #7) was published in late 2020.
《Wandering》在2018年2月出版了他们的第一期杂志。并且迅速扩大了发行范围。他们的第三期杂志在亚洲各地的商店里出售，上面有大牌卡西欧(Casio)和Vans的广告。2019年9月号的封面照片是Tiago Lemos 在成都拍的照片。在数字时代运营纸质杂志也不是一件容易的事，新冠疫情带来了更多的挑战。“由于疫情，大多数旅行都被推迟了，滑板选手和摄影师无法旅行和见面。所以很难拍到好的照片。由于封城，赞助商没有预算，所以获得广告资金真的很难，”赖科说。由于这些挑战，Wandering暂停了新一期杂志的出版。在2020年年底，他们出版了最后一期《Wandering》的印刷版。
Supporting Skateboarding’s Growth
Today Eric lives in Shenzhen with his wife and son. On weekends, he and his son often surf. “My son also likes the things that I like. It’s a blessing,” he says.
Eric’s also now the team manager of the China Santa Cruz kids team. The team has 7 riders (including Eric’s son) and all are under the age of 13. In choosing kids for this team, Eric focused more on style and personality, and not so much on raw skill.
Wandering hasn’t printed an issue since 2020, but Eric plans to release a new issue (issue #8) in September 2022. He also wants to turn Wandering into more of a media house – more videos and events. In order to do this, he’s building an indoor skatepark in Shenzhen, which he hopes to use to create videos for Wandering. “We would like to grow into our own park – kind of like The Berrics,” he says. “We will create content inside the park, and we will do events.”
In building a skatepark, Eric hopes to not only serve the needs of Wandering but also that of the Shenzhen skate community. “Most importantly, we would like to provide a park for people [in Shenzhen] to skate.”
For more information on Eric’s skatepark, check out the Wandering Instagram account (@wandering_mag), Wandering Weibo (Wandering_Magazine), or Wandering WeChat Account (Wander1ng).