Jobs In Skateboarding International : Lakai Team Manager

Jobs In Skateboarding International : Lakai Team Manager

Jobs In Skateboarding International : Lakai Team Manager 

After our Jobs In Skateboarding series became a minor-success we've attempted to push who would talk us from across the world. As that outside perspective of lack of jobs began to open up more and more we almost couldn't figure out where the 'careers' in the industry could end up.

Thankfully some willing participants came through and our first is with the delightful Steven Smith who currently upholds the duty of Lakai's Team Manager. 

Learn something new below from our way too relaxed conversation and take moment to get acquainted with the rest of the 'Jobs In Skateboarding' interviews here.


Lakai Team Manager : Steven Smith

What's your name?

Steven Smith.

What’s your job role and what do you even do?

I do a pretty good mix of both Team Management and Marketing. If I'm on the road for two weeks then my marketing list definitely gets bigger and things pile up. Some people probably don't know that Lakai is a small skeleton crew, there are probably only 8 to 10 of us that run the whole brand. It's pretty bare bones but we all work great together and everything works out. I’m deep in both sides, I do all the team stuff and the marketing/brand stuff too. I’d say there was an even balance and I like it that way, I’d go stir crazy if it was just one or the other. 

Sometimes I'm the skate rat on a tour looking after the team and making sure everyone has got what they need but then the marketing side allows me to come up with new projects alongside different brands and collaborate. I get to work on content, building up the calendar and putting out releases. My boss Craig has been with Lakai for 15 years and I take inspiration from him alot. He’s the General Manager and looks after everyone, he develops footwear and talks to factories. It's a balancing act and he puts a lot of trust in me. I've got to take care of my side, it's fun and it keeps me on my toes. 

Did you have any roles in the skate industry before this?

I've been lucky enough to be involved in skating since I was a kid. Just being the shit head, skate rat and weaselling my way into the skate shop. I grew up in Santa Cruz at Skate Works which is the Strubing family skate shop Justin, Jason and their dad Phil, they've owned shops across the area for a long time. They gave me a job at 16, gripping boards and cleaning windows. Over the years it became the ‘owning a key’ and locking the door. Moving onto a buyer's responsibility and buying from different brands. It was a great way of learning about the industry. It was a cool way to grow up. 

Once I finished college in San Francisco, I was skating for flow on Crailtap and Lakai so I incidentally got my foot in the door before I worked for Lakai. It all came organically. Crail hooked me up, they had my back really hard, I was totally taling to my friend Dan Wheatly ‘I don’t think this pro-skater thing is going to work out for me.’ I wanted to be involved in skating and I went to school for marketing. He was instrumental in me meeting everyone from Mike Caroll and Rick Howard as well as Sam Smyth. Every time a job came up I threw my name in there for any interview. I actually interviewed for the Girl/Chocolate Team Manager, I quit my job as soon as they said I had it, but they jumped the gun on it and it didn't happen haha. It was pretty funny. I never thought I’d be able to get into skateboarding. 

How did you find the jump between Lakai flow guy to working for a brand?

Growing up I could only skate, there's a tradition of skateboarding in Santa Cruz. My best friend growing up was Raven Tershy so that says something haha. He's one of the best, I was skating alongside him, even then I could see him progress at a crazy level. With the level that skateboarding is at these days you can see 12 year old kids and know how far they are going to go, that's not to say someone who is a little older couldn’t put in the work and make it happen though. It's possible. 

I went to school in San Francisco for marketing & public speaking. Everything I went to college for at the back of my mind applied to. ‘How can I do this in skateboarding?’ I was working at the shop and the thought process was I could open a shop or be a sales rep, but I met the right people too. I thought Dan and Sam had the coolest jobs in the world. In my mind they lived the closest thing to being a pro skater alongside the responsibility of a job. I tried to meet people, network and email a whole bunch everyone. I did my ankle really badly one year and I knew that the sponsored route wasn’t for me, I was hurt and not working. It's weird to say but that injury really sparked me to find a job in skateboarding, I love skateboarding and I want to be in it forever and there was no way it would be through the paid professional skateboarder route. Right place, right time and meeting the right people.

I grew up loving crailtap, Rick and Mike, the brand DNA everything so I knew it all well already. I felt like all of it came together the right way. 

On Team Management , do you think it's become easier or actually harder to find someone who fits for a team like Lakai? Would it be preferable now to be sent a tape?

Definitely being a skater and hooking myself down stuff and getting hurt. I related to skaters really well, it helps with the team dudes and kids who are sending footage, you can see and feel the effort. It's crazy and amazing how big skateboarding is, everywhere there are kids skating and every kid is good. Instagram is pushing their progression further and further. For me I'm pretty old school. I want to see a full part and footage, I'm not hating on getting tagged on random clips. I probably did that on MySpace ha. Everyday I get DMed and tagged. I love to see them doing their thing but I still need to see the full part, the old fashioned formula is good. Send over the part, we might get in contact and send some shoes, if that works out we’ll meet up and skate, it should come more organically and I tell the kids it's more up to them than it is to me. 

When I get the big question: ‘Is it ever going to happen for me?’ I say be consistent, send footage and come to LA and skate with us. That's what's going to resonate and make stuff happen. There's so much that goes into it. Growing up being that flow kid helps me relate to them and know what to look for. 

Does it take a good skateboarder to TM a team, does there come a point where no one is sending it and you’re going to have to do it for them?

Hahaha it definitely helps being able to do it. I’ve been in that position, I'll skate a spot and help get people motivated. I’ve been in a session where you have a team manager, filmer and photographer and if they don't really skate they can’t relate. There’s got to be a mutual understanding that the skater might get hurt and can’t spend hours jumping down stairs, you can’t be there at the spot saying ‘Just land it!’ ‘Keep trying it!’ ‘ Give me what I need!’. I don’t think you have to be a good skateboarder to qualify for a job like this; it just helps for sure. If you don’t it would be hard to even get close to a job like that. It’s just a total plus. 

How many people do you look after at the moment?

Oh man, a lot. Just people to make sure they have shoes to skate in? Over a hundred to one hundred and fifty. There are kids all over. I’ve been fortunate to travel a whole lot. I might see a lot of kids and see their potential. I'd rather have kids skating Lakai than anything else, I like it to be a personal relationship even if they live in the middle of nowhere and we only talk twice a year. 

When I was coming up, people would make me feel like I was bothering them for a minute of their time. I thought to myself that if i ever ended up in the position of hooking people up or helping them i don't want anyone to feel like that, if you skate Lakai your on the brand and on the team you deserve the time.

Do you remember your first sighting of Lakai?

Carroll’s in the shop when I was kids at skateworks way before I worked for them. A crazy one too, Bill’s Wheels in Santa Cruz had a TV commercial, “Back 2 school sale at Bill’s Wheels!’ I’ll never forget the ad  “Shop from the latest selection of footwear from DVS, eS, Vans and Lakai” I was straight up dude what the fuck is Lakai? 

Now I'm here and Rick and Mike are the coolest guys in the world, I still trip out on them even though we've been working together for 6 or so years. They are in the morning meeting every monday, they are finding out what's going on all the time, Rick is on every trip too. 

Lakai has been on a collabo tirade for a few years now right, what's going on there?

Skateboarding isn’t just skateboarding you know. The fact we can do a project with Black Sabbath, Porous Walker or David Flores we can reach all these new audiences and let them into our world. You are giving the opportunity for someone who may have never skated or heard of Lakai to get involved with the brand. Making Larry June or Ozzy Osbourne shoes is really fun! My favourite thing is the shoe names, I’ve tried to find out the reasons and I've dug but the designer is straight up ‘Cool names right?’. 

In our previous interviews Tom Smith says he doesn’t switch off, he said it was the worst thing about his job but it’s also not. I was wondering if you get the same feeling?

Oh man, it's a blessing and a curse. I can genuinely say I love my job and Lakai. I'm a fan of skateboarding, I’ve grown up skating with Lakai on my feet. I love it so much so it is hard to turn it off. The worst thing I guess is explaining to a kid why they shouldn’t be calling me at 11pm on Saturday and Sunday night asking for shoes. I don't want to sound like a dick but I am a normal human. I have a home life and a girlfriend. It can be frustrating but at the end of the day it's not that big of a deal and it can be hard to switch off. I wish I could do it and be a normal person. It's something I've got to learn over time. When I first started the job, if someone emailed me at 2am I would reply. I've got better at it. I run the social media, it's Christmas morning, I shouldn't be on my phone but I have to. If i don't do it, it won't get done. It is more a blessing and a curse. I have a baby on the way, it will be time to check out for a while and click that outgoing on my email.

Any advice for skateboarders out there who want to pursue your line of work?

The best advice I could give, meet as many people as you can, throw your name out there and don't be scared. I emailed people I didn't know. Be personable, be nice to everybody, whatever you put in you will get out. I love skateboarding more than anything, if you put in the work and be motivated, it will happen.

Spam Steven via Instagram here -
Shop everything Lakia here -