As a professional skateboarder in the 1980s, Christian Hosoi reached legendary status dominating contests with his fluid style and big airs. An instant icon, fans called him “Christ” and lapped up his “Hammerhead” pro model to the tune of $250,000 a year in his peak. A man seemingly born to occupy the spotlight, Christian became one of the main faces of the fledgling sport.
“Hosoi was the rock star of that era” says fellow pro Lance Mountain of the 1980s, “I remember being with him in Europe one time and he had a whole entourage with him–like the whole Rocket team, and we were in a store where Hosoi was trying on leather jackets and it was taking forever. We’re all sitting in there waiting for him to pick one out or whatever and I got bored and went outside. A few minutes later, the whole crew walked out with white leather jackets. He bought one for everybody.”
Grant Fukuda, a former Dogtown pro skater remembers Christian’s routine when he would arrive into town. “He would rent a white Lincoln Town Car, go straight to Sandy’s and then on to Rainbow Drive-In. He’d order like five plate lunches and then he’d be like, ‘And what do you guys want?’” he recalls. Whether it was expensive sushi or plate lunch, “he’d always pick up the tab for everyone.”
But on January 20, 2000 Hosoi’s high flight came crashing back down to earth, when he was arrested at Honolulu airport carrying almost a pound and a half of crystal methamphetamine in from Los Angeles. In a story well documented in skate circles via the internet and Thrasher magazine, Hosoi joined a small cadre of 80s professional skaters to have an all too public fall from grace. Christian was eventually convicted and sentenced to serve 10 years in prison, a fate that changed his life, in more ways than one…
The following interview was conducted via phone on 1/18/11.
The Christian Hosoi Interview
TIS: So can you tell me a bit about your childhood and your progression into skateboarding?
CH: Sure. I was introduced to skateboarding through my father. He was a surfer back in the 50’s & 60’s in Hawaii, where my parents grew up. They later moved to California and I was born. Skateboarding was the thing for surfers here in California in the 60’s and my Dad immediately made me a homemade board. Gerry Lopez was a famous surfer back then and his board had a lightning bolt in the in the middle, so my Dad made me a surf/skateboard with a lightning bolt on it. The Cadillac urethane wheels had just come out, this is back in ’73, and from that moment on, I fell in love with Skateboarding. I loved it more than riding my bike or any other traditional sport at the time. Since my Dad was an artist, I grew up around art shows and openings and that had a big impact on me as well, especially in L.A. So skateboarding was the cool thing to do and I was totally attracted to it and once I saw the magazines… that was it, I knew this was what I wanted to do for a living.
TIS: Awesome and after skating with the Bones Brigade for a while, you turned pro in 1981 with Sims Skateboards right?
TIS: Can you tell me about that transition?
CH: Yeah I wanted to turn pro at like 12 years old when I was riding for Bones Brigade. I was hanging out with Jay Adams & Tony Alva. Those guys raised me up when I was like 10 and 11 at Marina Del Rey Skatepark. Prior to them being my idols, Bruce Lee was my idol and all I wanted to do was be the best martial artist in the world but then I met those guys and thought well, if they could do it, I could do it, and I went for it. I wanted to be the best in the world and at 12 years-old I won my first big amateur contest called The Gold Cup Series Contest at Marina Del Ray Skatepark. That’s when I really started to believe I could turn pro, though it wasn’t until two years later when I was 14 that I actually did with Sims.
TIS: Right and it was shortly thereafter that your rivalry with Tony Hawk, which is legendary to say the least, started. Can you take me back to that experience? Do you feel like either one of you came out on top or what it just a win-win for skateboarding as a sport and fans in general?
CH: Well what I think it comes down to is really just two people who were very passionate about skateboarding. One who came from L.A. and the other from San Diego, with two different styles and cliques of people. There was the high flying, Thrasher, Independent Trucks style in L.A. vs. the Transworld, Tracker Trucks technical skating down in Sand Diego. It was really the fans that built the rivalry, we just loved the challenge. We still talk about it to this day, how we’d push each other which caused us to excel and progress in our pace, especially when we knew a contest was coming. Back then, contests were everything towards your career and becoming a reputable and professional skater, so for us, it was all able winning the contest. I think that was healthy for skating back then vs. today. Contests were so pertinent that you had to think that way but today, it’s not like that. You have your contest skaters, you have your video skaters, you have your skaters who don’t like either of them, but they all are sponsored and get paid. Back in the day however, careers were strictly built on competitions, just like surfing, though surfing is changing too so you can free surf and still get paid. So I think that rivalry was really because of the fans and the media who built it up, but it did bring something exciting about the sport, just like in any sport, whether it’s Larry Bird or Magic Johnson, I think it just made skating that much more exciting. We’d always look forward to the contests and when they’d happened, it was a special. We had a great time traveling the world and doing what we loved to do. I remember thinking to myself, “If I could do this for a living, I’d never have to work for the rest of my life.”
TIS: I have to say it’s almost surreal to hear firsthand about a “rivalry” that not only impacted me greatly in my youth but so many others as well.
CH: That’s cool.
TIS: And you mentioned you still talk about those days with Tony so you’re obviously still in touch with him. Who else do you still talk or skate with?
CH: Yeah I still hang out with all those guys. Steve Caballero and Lance Mountain, we’re still skating contests together. I still talk with Tony Alva and Eddie Elguera, who is actually skating again with my company. It’s really fun and exciting man. Being involved and hanging out with my brothers who skate is really amazing, especially because of our age. I mean, we’re in our mid-late forties and we’re still skateboarding in competitions. Who’d have ever thought? I think I was around 15 when my Dad was 40 and thought, “Man he’s old. There’s no way I’ll be skating at that age,” but here we are still competing, pushing ourselves and having a blast.
TIS: That’s awesome. So I think that music has always been an integral aspect of skating and wanted to ask you about some of the band’s you were listening to then vs. who you listen to now?
CH: I was really into Bob Marley and reggae. Gregory Isaacs and all the Dance Hall Reggae back then, whether it was Sanchez or Eek-A-Mouse, just all of it. Then I got into blues like B.B. King, Robert Johnson and Elvis Presley. I had an eclectic music selection. It went from Madonna to the Go-Go’s to Led Zeppelin & Aerosmith, AC/DC and then into rap with Ice-T & Public Enemy. We were all about going to the clubs back then. Nowadays though, I listen to purely Christian Worship Music, Christian Rap etc. People will give me some old music, stuff I used to listen to back then and when I listen to the words, it blows me away. Just thinking about some of the things I was singing about as a kid, and not knowing the potential harm and damage it could have caused if I were to have actually acted on them. So I’m very careful with what I let my ear gate hear on my own. I don’t care if I go out and something is playing that I wouldn’t put on myself, that doesn’t bother me but when I feed off and get nourishment from music today, it’s through things that are encouraging and lift me up, things that have integrity and purpose and that’s what Christian Worship Music is all about. So that’s what I primarily listen to these days.
TIS: Sure, I have some very dear friends committed to the Christian faith who’d say the same thing so I can appreciate that. So you’re very open about the fact that you had a problem with drugs, particularly Crystal Meth and I too am in recovery. That being said, I think it’s important for people to hear about the very unglamorous side of drug use and was hoping you’d talk a bit about your experience and the lows you hit while actively using?
CH: Well it started out with just smoking weed at 10 years old. It seemed innocent and my parents were ok with it. Then at 12, it turned into acid & mushrooms and at 14, cocaine. It was really part of the skateboard culture back then. Today it’s a little different. Kids get caught up in technical & electronic things like games & videos when all we had were magazines. The only porn we had was Penthouse & Playboy and we weren’t as exposed to things that the kids of today are. We were caught up in hanging out at parties, using drugs, trying to scam on girls, some of which had to have abortions early in life. Really, it’s tough thinking about the kind of destruction I was doing to myself, but even tougher when I think about what I was doing to others. Without parental guidance telling you there’s another way to live it can be tough but my kids have an advantage over my life. I can tell them I know what it’s like and that they don’t ever want to go to the places I’ve been, whereas when I grew up, it was so accepted and normal that if you didn’t do it, you were considered weird. So today, there’s more of an option and there’s people actually standing up and saying hey we’re cool. There’s people I look up to saying, “Hey, I went down that dark road and it destroyed my life. I lost everything, but now I’ve turned it around.” You see it all the time with celebrities these days that have 20 years sobriety who at one time, had ruined their lives through drug use. I had to basically learn on my own. I had to go so far down that road that I landed myself in prison. Who knows what would have happened if I didn’t. I could be dead or something even more tragic could have happened, but by God’s grace I am still alive. I was hooked on Crystal Meth for eight years and did it every single day, all day long. I honestly have no idea how my heart survived or how I didn’t suffer multiple overdoses, I don’t get it. All I can say is that I’m very fortunate to have this second chance because a lot of my friends didn’t, they didn’t make it.
TIS: Absolutely but while you were in prison of all places things changed for the better for you correct?
CH: That’s right.
TIS: I’ve heard you say before that you’d felt an internal yearning in your life, something you sought to fill through fame, fortune, women etc but it wasn’t until you opened up to the idea of faith in something greater than those sense gratifications were providing you that things changed. Can you tell me about that experience?
CH: Yeah, I’d searched everywhere for this thing called love. I went through life seeking something that would be the ultimate. Every kid wants to reach their goals in life and be the best. During my Bruce Lee phase, I wanted to be the best martial artist in the world. When skateboarding hit, I wanted to be best skateboarder in the world, and I fought for it, there was nothing that was going to get in my way. I won contest after contest until finally I realized, “Ok, I am the best in the world, but now what?” So I opened my own company, but there was still that feeling of, “What else do I need to do?” So then, I had to make the most money and get the prettiest girls. It was a revolving door that kept going in circles. I got to the point where I thought, “Man, none of this is doing it.” but I’d keep repeating the same actions. I’d go win another contest, open another company, invent a new maneuver. I had people telling me I was the best and when it would sink in, I’d feel like I’d have to push things further, otherwise I wasn’t worthy of their praise. It felt like I was a bucket full of holes. Things kept going in but just as quickly, they’d drain out. So I had people telling me I was this and that and then I’d feel pressure to perform up to their standards, jumping through hoops so I could live up to their expectations. That was the only way I could feel good about myself when really, the reason I did it in the first place was to enjoy it and to have fun, to break records and push it to the limit. But eventually it became the backdrop of what I was doing. It consisted of me just showing up and becoming “that guy.” So when I got to that point, I was sort of like, “Screw it. Vert’s out, streets in. You know what? Let me try the dark stuff. Let me go down this dark road.” I tried partying and going out, doing drugs and even dealing drugs to support my habit. I was hanging out with people from the underground who were doing illegal things all the time. I was experimenting with more and more drugs to the point where skateboarding was the last thing on my mind and my family was next to last. Skateboarding and that whole industry just became so far away. I was trying to find that ultimate place, that place of contentment but I couldn’t. I didn’t find it in pushing the dark things of life to the limit either. I was literally living on the edge of life, to the point where I didn’t know what was going to happen, not caring, taking chances and finally landing in prison and once there, all my lines were cut. I couldn’t talk my way out of the situation, which I was usually pretty good at thanks to my reputation. I’d gotten to the place where I wanted to quit using drugs but couldn’t and finally I landed in that prison cell where everything was cut. But God always puts somebody in your life at the right moment. Shortly before my arrest, my girlfriend at the time, who’s now my wife of ten years, told me she was quitting drugs and going to church. I went with her once but that was it. After the arrest, I didn’t know what I was going to do. She told me to trust in God but I mean, I was looking at ten years and was like, “God? I’m not dying, I need a lawyer. I need bail.” but she insisted that I needed to trust in God to get us through it and she asked me to go get a Bible while in prison, and that first day, I did. Immediately, the light went on. The scales fell off my eyes and I realized I had been outside of God’s will.
Through reading the scriptures I realized there was a purpose for my life, that I was created for a reason, that I was significant, that it was my choices that got me to where I was at and that it would be my choices that would get me to where I wanted to be as well. So from that moment on, all of the weight, the pain, guilt & shame fell off my shoulders and I started to feel whole, like the void was being filled up in my heart and it was the love of God. The Bible says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life.” – John 3:16 and in that moment I realized, “Wow, there’s a love greater than what I know of in this world.” My wife’s uncle is a Pastor and he told me there was a plan in all of this. That even though it didn’t look like it at the moment, there was and that I needed to open up my heart to Jesus Christ. So two weeks after the arrested I was on the phone with my wife and we said a prayer and I was crying and just so happy, I can’t even explain it. It was euphoric. People said I went from freedom my whole life to prison, but in reality, I went from imprisonment and bondage of sin and death my whole life, to finding freedom in a prison cell. I spent five years in prison, a free man for the first time in my whole life. All I did was read The Word and do Bible study and correspondence studies. I read every Christian book I could. I read the different translations of the Bible they had and really just dove into it, almost so I could prove it all right. Every question I’d ever had God answered and still continues to answer every one I have today. It’s really amazing what God can do. Who would have ever thought I’d find love, contentment and joy in a prison cell, but I did. I knew that I knew that I knew that day, I’d been released, and I thought to myself, “I need to tell everyone about this” because no one had ever told me. My name is Christian, my nickname was Christ, Christ was on the cover of Thrasher Magazine in ’85, I invented a maneuver called the “Christ Air” and nobody stopped to ask me if I’d ever read the Bible or if they could pray with me or if I’d heard the Gospel, if I’d been to church. Nobody said, “Hey man, I go to church, you want to come?” So I couldn’t wait to tell my parents and friends and the skateboarding industry and the whole world, they needed to hear about this. So from the moment on, I gave my heart to Jesus and decided that was what I was going to do. When I was released from prison everybody thought I’d go back to doing the same things I did before, but I had no desire to do any of that anymore. That stuff steals, kills, and destroys your life and robs you of all the blessings that God has for you. So for me, it was a no brainer. I love the Lord with my life and through that love, I walk the walk, I don’t just talk the talk. Today I want to be an example, the person who when they look at, they say, “That guy is a Christian, there’s no doubt about it.” I want to be blameless. I want to be an encouragement. I want to be a role model for the believer. I want to inspire and encourage people and intrigue them to want to know what makes me tick, which is ultimately the love of God, the grace, peace and forgiveness of God that I’m so thankful & grateful for. I want people to have that freedom and victory, to walk the walk and not just talk the talk and it’s an adventure, it’s a challenge and it’s beautiful.
TIS: I can certainly appreciate your passion and dedication to making this world a better place through sharing your experience, strength and hope wit others, that’s great. So what are you up to these days and what does the future have in store?
CH: I’m a pastor at The Sanctuary Church Huntington Beach here in Westminster, Orange County. I’m an Evangelist and travel all over the world speaking at churches. I just got finished with a movie called “Hardflip” with Rosanna Arquette, Randy Wayne & John Schneider, which will be showing in movie theaters this spring. It’s got a faith based message so I’m excited about that. I just finished up a DVD with Brian Sumner called “Foolishness” which he produced and directed. I also did a reality show called The Uprising with Brian Sumner & Jay “Alabamy” Haizlip. It’s hardcore ministry that’s both organic and on the street. We traveled filming wherever we went which included the Cayman Islands, England and right here in our backyard in Huntington Beach. There’s 2 seasons comprising of 18 episodes through Steelroots Network. We’re going to put that together as a box set for people to purchase and share with their friends. We’re now working on a 3rd season and I’m excited about that. On January 23rd I’ll have 12 years completely sober, no alcohol, no marijuana, no cigarettes. My wife and I have been married for 10 years and have two beautiful children, one is 2 years-old and the other is 5. I just started Hosoi Skateboards up again a few months ago. I have a book coming out this summer through HarperCollins, which is a memoir and that’s a huge deal for me. So I’m having a blast using the gifts and talents that God has given me as a platform to minister to people and love them and shine the light that He wants me to shine. That’s my passion now and life is good.
TIS: Awesome man, sounds like life really is good. I can’t thank you enough for your time. You’re a legend and this is super cool for me.
CH: Thank you very much Chris. God bless.
TIS: Blessings back.
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