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Maru interviews: chinese videographer, Tommy Zhao

Added on by Andrew Szeto.

tommy is a good friend of ours. he's a skateboarder and skateboard videographer working out of shanghai, china. we've been through china on multiple occasions for skateboarding and he's always been the go-to-dude. he's saved us from getting ripped off by cab drivers, he's shown us a couple hidden gems for food, and taken us to cities with incredible spots, where no one has ever seen or heard of skateboarding. he's a transplant originally from delaware and its his passion for exploration and love for skateboarding which has brought him to where he's at today. guys like tommy are what maru is all about! anyhow we've been fortunate enough to catch him in between tours to have a quick chat. without further ado, here's the tommy zhao web interview:

tommy zhao at the ordos museum of art

tommy zhao at the ordos museum of art

maru: how long have you been living in china for now man?

tz: I was born in Nagoya, Japan, and grew up in Delaware, USA. I've been living in China for just about 4 years now. 

maru: why the heck did you go out there?

tz: I had just graduated from Uni then and really didn't feel like jumping straight into a full-time job. I thought about teaching English in South Korea, but then having been to Shanghai a few times before with my parents, I thought I'd wing it and just fly over to skate for a few months. I tried to talk a bunch of my friends into coming over with me but in the end, it was a solo mission. 

maru: why have you stayed so long?

tz: You know how people say a few months can turn into a few years? That happened. I flew out here and on the first day, I met a bunch of the local Shanghai heads and we've been family ever since. The skatespots in China are amazing and the cities change so often that there's always new shit popping up everywhere! Shanghai's got a bit of the East Coast feel to it (being from Delaware) and it's amazing to be able to skate around the city whereas in some of the other major cities in China, you got to cab or metro it. Plus... it's SHANGHAI! 

[o] zhao - lady on bike. shanghai, china

[o] zhao - lady on bike. shanghai, china

maru: word! so who's coming up in china right now?

tz: Cyres Wang (王汇丰),  Xiao Ji (王国花), Johnnie Tang, Jeremy Hu, Boss Xie, and then you got all the international transplants like Brian Peacock, Brian Dolle, JibaDan, Sasha Kandaurov and Stephen Khou who go hard in daaaaa paint!

Brian Peacock - Welcome to DC China video, filmed and edited by Tommy Zhao


maru: you seem to lead a bunch of tours and also shoot with a handful of pros from north america, who/what are some of the notable folks and trips that you've had the pleasure to skate and shoot with?

tz: I got to see Guy Mariano skate a few weeks ago. That was insane. The Vans tour with Rowley, Allen, Crockett, Pfanner, AVE, was an amazing trip. Andrew Cannon and I grew up in the same area and he comes out to China every year to film, raddest dude ever.

[o] zhao - AVE in hong kong

[o] zhao - AVE in hong kong

[o] zhao - geoff rowley battling the triple set in love park, shanghai

[o] zhao - geoff rowley battling the triple set in love park, shanghai

[o] zhao - chima ferguson, touring with vans in china

[o] zhao - chima ferguson, touring with vans in china

[o] zhao - andrew cannon, ergo ad

[o] zhao - andrew cannon, ergo ad


maru: so let's talk about your skating a bit, we shot a spread for focus a few years back! full photo mission at 5 am haha! how long have you been skating for?

tz: Haha been skating since 2000. and I still can't heelflip man. 

[o] szeto - tommy zhao - ollie in the streets of shanghai

[o] szeto - tommy zhao - ollie in the streets of shanghai


maru: what's some crazy shit you've seen in the last little while in china?

tz: Everyday is crazy out here, it's so tight! I think the first day I was out here, I was walking outside my hotel and some old head choked on a piece of mantou (Chinese breakfast bread) and died! A bunch of people were crowding around him and he had like froth/droll down his mouth and he looked a color I'd never seen on a person. RIP! 

maru: fucking ordos!!! that video was epic. how was that place from your perspective?

tz: Haha, I'm so hyped that people are hyped on Ordos. To be honest, that town is in the middle of nowhere and I never want to go back. There's absolutely nothing to do in that town and the food selection sucked. Imagine being somewhere where you have to eat at the same place everyday! But Ordos is actually a main producer of cashmere, and I'd been trying to get me a sweater for a while so that was a plus! Not only that, but they use the scraps from making the sweaters into gloves and there were like $2.50 USD a pair! Good looks on that one, Ordos! 

ORDOS - video by Charles Lanceplaine, with additional filming by Tommy Zhao and Patrik Wallner


maru: what projects you working on these days?

tz: Working on a full-length Vans China video at the moment and trying to finish up my VX project for Legion of Sorts showcasing the skate homies in China. Should be tight, I got a bunch of my homies from Delaware to move out here for that one! 

maru: speaking of the east coast! what's good back there right now?!? willy akers just turned pro, you shot a cover for focus, chris bradley's been sleeping on your couch, 5boro's been hanging out with weezy haha... 

tz: Everyone's shredding so hard these days! Willy kills it! The Akers are awesome, his younger brother, Bubba, also shreds! I'm trying to get them to come to China! Haha, basically I'm trying to get all the homies out here. Mark Del Negro came out for half a year and filmed a full 4 minute part! It's super sick! Brian Peacock's out here right now, it's rad being in other countries with the homies you grew up skating with. 

Mighty Healthy: Chipper Del Negro commercial, filmed and edited by Zhao

maru: what you filming with these days?

tz: I love the VX1000. You can't really shoot SD and make a living anymore though, but I still film VX as much as I can, which is what the Legion video will be, and after that it'll probably be the last VX project I'll do. Otherwise, I'm mainly filming with the Canon T2i DSLR with Nikkor primes. The T2i overheats a lot though so I should probably upgrade sometime soon. I've had it for so long though and it's so much smaller than a MKII or the 60D, I'm just trying to keep my bag as light as possible, especially on long trips where I have to lug it around everyday. 

maru: soo tell us a bit about the cover you shot! damn you're primarily a videographer, but you're also starting to kill it on the snaps too! You thinking of pursuing that further?!?

tz: I've always wanted to learn how to use a camera but it wasn't until I started using the HDSLR's that I started to take more photos. One of the primary advantages of shooting HD on the HDSLR's is that you can film the trick and then snap a photo right after. Also, since a lot of the trips I go on, there isn't always a photographer with us, so in a way, it forces me to take more photos and sometimes I get super lucky, like the cover for Focus or the Ergo ad. I would love to go on a trip as a photographer, that'd be amazing, but I know a LOT of other photographers that deserve that opportunity way before I ever do.

maru: dude i wouldn't even stress that. you're the only one there, keep gettin' it!

[o] zhao - cover shot of Chipper Del Negro, nollie backside heel in guangzhou

[o] zhao - cover shot of Chipper Del Negro, nollie backside heel in guangzhou

maru: so what's next for tz?!?!

tz: Southern China trip with the Helas Caps crew! 

maru: any last words? 

tz: Thanks to Ty and Dreadlock at Switch Skateshop for everything! YEEERRRRP!!!!! 

check out tommy's blog (legionofsorts.wordpress.com) and stay tuned for some work we're doing with him, coming out in 2013!