Pray with me," Christ says. ¬∂ He puts his right hand against his
side of the bulletproof glass and I place my left palm on my
side, and we pray. He thanks the Lord for another day and asks
that I be enabled to put down on paper the life he has led and
the things he has done so as to edify those who will read about
him. He also asks that he be allowed to continue to serve God and
to lift up those in situations like the one he finds himself
in--those who have come to such a purgatory and are now seeking
salvation. And then Christ nods, hangs up the phone, turns away
and walks back into the San Bernardino (Calif.) Central Detention Center, where he was serving 10 years for possession of 1.5
pounds of crystal methamphetamine with intent to distribute.
Christ is the nickname of Christian Rosha Hosoi, 36, one of the
greatest skateboarders in the history of the sport. He has not
stood on a board in more than four years.
Christian was up a tree. The six-year-old had climbed far up a
tree, and no one on the school staff could coax him down. He was
just sitting there, bare legs dangling from a narrow branch. "And
you know how delicate eucalyptus trees can be," a teacher was
telling his father, Ivan (Pops) Hosoi, over the phone. "One wrong
move and the branch could snap...."
But Pops wasn't concerned. He knew there was nothing to worry
about as long as his boy wasn't spooked. And Christian,
surprisingly well-coordinated for a six-year-old, was never
afraid. He had been climbing almost as soon as he could walk, and
he'd often get other boys in his kindergarten class in West Los
Angeles to follow him up a tempting trunk, but the other boys
would quickly give up, too weak to gain much purchase. By then
Christian would already be two stories up, and rising. His
classmates would gather at the base of the tree to gawk, and then
the teachers would come running.
When the teachers would call Pops, he would already have smoked
his first joint of the day, and he'd just sigh and say, "Lady,
look--if the kid ain't scared, he ain't in any kind of trouble."
Sometimes, though, the teachers would be so freaked out from
watching Christian swing from one branch to another that they
would insist that Pops retrieve his kid. (Christian's parents had
separated when he was two.) Pops would then have to slip on some
flip-flops, start up his '59 Volkswagen bus, drive to the school
and get Christian to come down.
But Christian never wanted to come down. When the boy was 12, in
1979, Pops, an unsuccessful painter who had assisted Sam Francis
and Ron Davis, among other artists, took a job managing a
skatepark in part because he marveled at his son's unique ability
to stay aloft on a skateboard. Pops let his son skate the park
all day, and very quickly even the top skaters took note of this
kid with long, black hair who was already going higher than any
of them. "Christian was this teeny little kid who just had it,"
recalls Stacy Peralta, a skateboard pioneer, director of the
documentary Dogtown and Z-boys, and screenwriter of the upcoming
Heath Ledger and Johnny Knoxville film, Lords of Dogtown. "He had
impeccable form even when he was 10 years old, just beautiful to
watch. It's weird to see a kid at that age with that
understanding of how to move his body through space."
The first photo of Christian published was in Skateboarder in
1980. It shows him blasting a frontside aerial out of a pool. His
arms are extended up and back, like a ballerina's in midleap. He
stares impassively at the camera, lips clenched. Nearly everyone
who was skating then recalls that photo. Something about it--the
eerie lighting, the fact that some kid no one had ever heard of
was blasting huge air (and looked like he never wanted to come
down)--made it memorable. "The first time I ever heard of
Christian Hosoi was that photo," says Tony Hawk, an amateur
skateboader at the time. "My friends and I thought he was a girl,
but we were like, Who is this girl? She rips!"
Christian would soon be anointed the second coming of
skateboarding. L.A. natives Peralta, Jay Adams, Tony Alva and
Shogo Kubo had established vertical skateboarding--in which the
athlete rode the vertical walls of pools and halfpipes--as a
sport in Venice, a.k.a. Dogtown, in the 1970s (the region and era
so lovingly documented in Peralta's films), but the sport went
through a painful contraction in the late '70s and early '80s. It
was the half-Japanese Christian Hosoi, sometimes just called
Christ, who resurrected and then transformed the sport into the
aerial spectacle it would become. He was joined by several other
notable athletes: Steve Caballero, Lester Kasai, Lance Mountain,
Mark (Gator) Ragowski and the one who would become the most
famous of all, Hawk, a weed-thin trick machine. "We invented
going out of the pool and doing aerials," says Peralta, "but for
guys like Christian and Tony, the swimming pool walls were no
longer for riding. They were for launching." If Christian hadn't
squandered his great gifts, it is very likely that you and your
kids would be watching him blast huge air every year at the X
Games and that video game on your PlayStation would be called
Christian Hosoi's Underground. "Dude," says Dave Duncan, a
professional skater and X Games announcer, "as far as I'm
concerned, every dollar that Tony Hawk has made is really
Christian's arrival on the scene coincided with the decision by a
few of the sport's primary movers to market it as an outlaw
pursuit. It's hard to remember a time when skateboarding was ever
anything but a counterculture activity, but during the 1970s boom
skateboards were sold primarily in sporting goods stores, next to
the fishing rods and lawn darts. But as skateparks shut down
because of high insurance premiums and low turnout,
Powell&Peralta, the skateboard company run by Peralta and
aerospace engineer George Powell, and Independent Trucks (trucks
are the plates and axles that connect the wheels to the board, or
deck) were among those industry leaders who redefined skating as
a beyond-the-pale activity for rebellious kids.
Thrasher magazine started up in 1981 and portrayed skating as an
almost nihilistic activity. Thrasher, Powell&Peralta and other
skate companies began holding contests such as Terror at Tahoe
and Shut Up and Skate at backyard ramps from California to
Connecticut. "It was just a bunch of kids rolling up in a van and
ripping some ramp in the middle of nowhere," says Peralta. "We
knew skating had to become a more underground activity to
survive, that mystique was good for the sport."
The credo of those still skating in 1982 was summed up by a
sticker that began appearing on decks nationwide: skate and
destroy. "We just wanted to be outlaws," says Fausto Vitello,
founder of Independent Trucks and Thrasher. "The mainstream thing
hadn't worked, so we just terrorized. That was how we saw we
could promote the sport."
Skateboarding, second perhaps only to hip-hop, was the greatest
influence on American youth culture of the late 20th century.
There is no sport as inextricably linked with America's
alternative subculture. Seminal punk-rock pioneers like Black
Flag's Henry Rollins and Suicidal Tendencies's Mike Muir (brother
of Dogtown Skates owner Jim Muir) were serious skaters, as were
members of the Beastie Boys, The Germs and the Red Hot Chili
Peppers. Even the sport's graphics, which came out of the gang
graffiti endemic to Venice in the early 1980s, became the
jumping-off point for a visual style later co-opted by MTV and
mainstream magazines. Any number of sartorial trends, from hoodie
sweatshirts to baggy pants to fat-soled sneakers, also came out
of Southern California's skateboard community.
By 1982 the sport was synonymous with outlaw cool at precisely
the moment when its athletes, taking advantage of huge
improvements in equipment--uniform deck sizes, hard plastic knee
pads, flat-bottom ramps--were pushing the sport into far more
complex and radical endeavors. The skater was emerging as a
cultural antihero, and there was no one better suited to that
role than Christian Hosoi.
Throughout the early 1980s, starting when he was 13, Christian
dominated amateur skateboarding contests. "Christian was the best
pool skater I have ever seen," says Adams. "He could make any
trick look really easy or really critical." During outlaw pool
sessions, when Alva or Adams or another of the former
Z-boys--skaters associated in the late '70s with the surfboard
and deck manufacturer Zephyr--would man the backyard gate of a
drained swimming pool, very often the only grommet (young skater)
they let in was Christian. The genealogy of skating, in the minds
of purists, went from Alva to Adams to Hosoi, like some
alternative culture Ruth to DiMaggio to Mantle.
Christian's repertoire already included bigger, higher, smoother
versions of every aerial move in the sport. His first sponsorship
deal was with Powell&Peralta in 1979, when he was 12; a year
later he left them for Dogtown Skates. "I was a professional
skater by the time I was 14," Christian says. "I was already on
the covers of mags and stuff. When I went to school, everyone
knew who I was. I already had a couple of thousand dollars a
month coming in. I could do anything I wanted."
Simon Elbling, a former Venice skater who is now a sunglass
distributor for Black Flies in Honolulu, recalls sitting in his
10th-grade class in Venice and seeing Christian outside, holding
two skateboards and a bag of weed. "He was jumping up and down,
showing me the baggie. He'd be like, 'Let's go to the beach!' I'd
be like, 'Don't you have school?' and he'd be all, 'I'm finished
A typical day for Christian entailed riding his skateboard to the
Venice Beach boardwalk. He'd lie on the beach with a bikini-clad
girl or two and soak up some sun and some weed. Sometimes he'd
skate, and sometimes he wouldn't, but whenever he was on the ramp
at Venice a buzz passed through the crowd. Watching him launch
aerials was breathtaking. His deep tan, black hair, high
cheekbones, long nose and strong jawline made him look like an
updated version of those faces carved into Mayan stelae.
"Christian was so fluid," says Hawk. "Everything he did, he did
it with his own signature." That signature was a combination of
power, balance and grace--it takes amazing strength and
coordination to control a skateboard and your body as you are
hurtling six feet above an empty swimming pool. Built low to the
ground, with exceptionally strong thighs, chest and upper arms,
Christian might have been a good shortstop or soccer midfielder,
but it was his exceptional sense of balance that allowed him to
pull off aerials that left other skaters shaking their heads. "He
made skateboarding an art," says Cesario Montano, a photographer
and fellow skater.
The only thing Christian lacked was a foil, a rival who could
push him to a new level. Finally, in the mid-'80s, that skater
emerged: Hawk. He had started appearing in the magazines around
the same time that Christian had, but he'd been dismissed by
hard-core skaters as a lanky circus freak who did innumerable
flip tricks--turning the board over in his hands during
aerials--but lacked Christian's style, power and charisma.
However, by the mid-'80s, Hawk began winning major contests,
especially at the notoriously difficult skatepark in Upland,
Calif., and the skate world had to take him seriously.
Christian and Hawk were as different as two boys could be and
still share a passion for skating. In pools and halfpipes, their
wildly divergent styles made them natural antagonists. "Christian
was the air, the showman," says Hawk. "I was the technician. I
could go high, but I couldn't do it consistently. I always wished
I could go as big as he did."
The two skaters came to represent divergent cultural strains in
the sport. "There was starting to be a division between the
hard-core punk skater and the skatepark skater," says Vitello.
"Because Tony's dad was always around, Tony had the reputation of
being a goody-goody guy, while everyone else was getting stoned
all the time." Consider, for example, the precontest ritual of
the two skaters: Frank Hawk would have his son doing calisthenics
in the parking lot, while Pops and Christian would alternate
sucking pure air from an oxygen tank and taking bong hits. (Pops
was smoking marijuana with his only son from the time Christian
In a sport where the badder you were, the more highly you were
regarded, Christian's popularity was enhanced by having Hawk as a
rival. The two of them would engage in an epic battle through the
'80s for contest titles, sponsorship deals and fame, earning
hundreds of thousands of dollars while traveling around the
It is 11:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning in Kahala, Oahu. It's flat
off Diamond Head, no waves, so seven surfers (and skaters) are
hanging out in a shabby living room, flopped on sofas that smell
like wet dogs. The blinds are drawn. Spread out on the cracked,
glass-top coffee table are a few skate and surf magazines, empty
beer bottles, dirty coffee mugs, a bong and a ziplock baggie of
red-haired buds. Elbling, an old friend of Christian's from back
in Venice, has already rolled and shared five blunts. Every few
minutes, preposterously-proportioned women in tiny Lycra bikinis
wander in from the bedroom and sit down on the sofas. They cross
their legs and wait to become the center of attention. When they
realize they can't compete with the skate videos the guys are
watching, they push themselves off the couches and leave.
At first we are watching recent videos, compendiums of
street-skating tricks or pool sessions somewhere in California,
New Jersey or Virginia. The rhythm of these tapes resembles that
of pornography: quick shots of skater after skater doing sick
trick after sick trick. Money shot after money shot.
"Yeah. Yeah! Stop it. Dude! Stop it right there. Dude, rewind
"And he lands a fakie! No way."
"Backside! Oh, s---!"
After about 20 minutes, and another two blunts, Elbling slips in
a 1991 video of Christian and Hawaiian legend Kali Selfridge
skating in a pool not far from this house. The tempo is different
from the earlier footage. Instead of ruthlessly editing each run
down to one trick, the director let this session play out in real
time. The skaters and surfers watching this video--most of whom
first met Christian in Santa Monica or here in Hawaii--stare at
the screen in reverential silence. Christian's run is the fluid
opposite of the jerky contemporary pool sessions we had been
viewing. Though his tricks are not as complex as those of some of
the modern pool skaters, his style transcends eras and technical
virtuosity. He puts his moves together with such flow it is as if
his run was choreographed. "He was just so beautiful to watch,"
says former pro Grant Fukuda, shaking his head. "There will never
be another skater like him. He had it all, the best moves and the
most incredible lifestyle."
Christian was famous for enjoying the considerable perquisites of
being the best in a sport that defined counter-culture cool. He
changed sponsors several times before finally starting his own
company, Hosoi Skates, in 1985. (His logo, his name over a rising
sun, winked at his Japanese heritage.) That year he was making,
by his own estimate, a few thousand dollars a month on the sale
of decks alone. He also had endorsement deals with Jimmy Z,
Oakley and Swatch; Converse put out a poster of him with Magic
Johnson. Perhaps the steadiest money Christian made came from
traveling around the world giving demonstrations--to promote a
local skate shop or company--for up to $5,000 per day. He
appeared in Coke and Pepsi commercials, in music videos for the
Beastie Boys and in the skate-sploitation movie Thrashin'.
With his $350,000 annual income--when the average NBA salary was
$300,000--Christian bought a Mustang, a Harley-Davidson, a
tricked-out Jeep and a McLaren sports car, all before he had a
driver's license. He hung out with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the
Beastie Boys, Ice-T and the actors River Phoenix and David
Arquette. "I was just a teenager, but I was living the full
rock-star life," says Christian. "I could have anything I wanted,
do whatever I wanted. Girls. Cars. Clubs. Drugs."
Louanna Rawls, the daughter of soul singer Lou Rawls, met him in
an L.A. club in 1987. She didn't know who Christian was, but
"when he walked into the room, the room stopped, and it had
nothing to do with skateboarding. He was a hot, charismatic guy."
That evening marked the start of their 3 1/2-year relationship,
during which they would live together in a house in Echo Park
formerly owned by W.C. Fields, where Christian had a wooden
halfpipe constructed in the backyard.
He would fly a half-dozen skaters with him to Hawaii or Rio and
pick up every check that came near him. "We would go out to get
sushi and there would be this posse of 15 boys around us," Rawls
says, "and Christian would pay for everyone." Once, after a demo
in Hawaii, Christian stopped his white Lincoln Town Car--he
always rented a white Lincoln Town Car when he was on the
road--and asked a bunch of young skaters if he was going to see
them later that evening at a nightclub. "We were like these
little groms and we didn't have any money and I told him that,"
says Fukuda, who would later skate for Hosoi Skates. "And then on
the down-low, so nobody would see it, he gave me a bunch of
twenties so I could buy beer and food for all us kids who didn't
have any money."
Even as Christian reigned as the preeminent skateboarder in the
industry, a revolution was unfolding on California streets in the
late '80s. Young skaters, frustrated by the lack of skateparks
and unable to get access to abandoned swimming pools, began to
exploit the terrain they found on the streets. They began to
incorporate almost every feature of the urban
environment--handrails, steps, pylons, loading docks, park
benches--into what was called street skating. By the early '90s
the magazines and videos devoted most of their coverage to these
young skaters, and the prize money for vert contests virtually
disappeared. Christian and Hawk, the two most famous vert
skaters, could still pick up small demo fees and sponsorship
deals, but they quickly saw their lifestyle go from rock-star
level to what Hawk calls "just eking it out. In the early '90s I
spent a week in Dallas doing three demos a day at Six Flags for
$100 per day. That could be discouraging if you're used to making
thousands for one appearance."
Christian claims to have been undeterred by the revolution that
toppled him. "I've never been someone who dwells on the past," he
says. "I could skate anywhere. If street skating was it, then I
could skate on the street." But the new players in the industry,
companies like World Industries or H-Street, were not about to
pay some aging pool skater to do a signature model. In 1991 Rawls
dumped him, and as his sponsorship money dried up, Christian was
forced to move out of the Echo Park house. He moved in with his
mom, making the drive home in his silver McLaren.
Christian had always been a spendthrift, and Pops, who made most
of Christian's business decisions, did not take a long view when
it came to managing his son's money. (Hawk's father, Frank, on
the other hand, prudently guided Tony's affairs and insisted that
Tony invest some of his substantial earnings.) "Most corporates
would have paperwork," Pops explains, "but we weren't into that.
We didn't have contracts. We didn't want to create this
paperwork-lawyer thing. This is a sport that's done underground."
Typical of Pops's management style was his one-sentence
explanation to Peralta for Christian's decision to leave
Powell&Peralta in the early '80s: "The bird has flown." By the
early '90s Christian was down to making a few thousand dollars a
month, mostly from international demos.
"It killed him," says Montano. "He was such the Man, and it was
hard for him to admit he wasn't anymore."
Skateboarders have always been exposed to underground--and
illegal--temptations. Whether Christian's downward spiral was
exacerbated by drugs is impossible to determine. He insists that
it wasn't drug abuse that destroyed his career but dumb luck, a
couple of bad business calls, a few rash decisions. Perhaps there
is some truth in this, but it is certain that when Christian
began using large amounts of hard drugs in the early '90s, in
particular crystal meth, the act of defying gravity, in a
halfpipe or in life, no longer seemed so effortless.
In 1993 Christian moved again, this time to Orange County, closer
to the clubs and drugs he craved, and farther away from skating.
"He could have progressed as a street skater," says Montano. "He
was doing handrails, stairs, but it killed him so bad being out
of the magazines. Then he moved out of the neighborhood, and we
couldn't keep tabs on him. If we had known he wasn't skating, we
would have killed him."
Christian acknowledges that his drug use accelerated in 1995,
when he went from snorting speed to smoking it. "Coke was out,
speed was in," he says. "I was partying and going to clubs, doing
a bunch of meth and Ecstasy. I was flying, and you know I was
never afraid of flying high."
He grew a ponytail, stopped shaving, got a few more piercings. He
recalls that this was the first time in his life that he had to
pay for a pair of shoes: steel-toed biker boots. Before that, he
had always been paid to wear one or another company's sneakers.
One afternoon in '95 Christian was pulled over in his McLaren for
a traffic violation, and police found a meth pipe in his glove
compartment. He was arrested and charged with possession of drug
paraphernalia. Friends bailed him out. Facing a possible 30-day
jail sentence if convicted, Christian didn't show up for his
hearing. "Christian was scared to death of going to jail," says
Montano. The judge issued a bench warrant for Christian's arrest;
he then faced a potential nine-month sentence.
Christian now entered what he calls his "outlaw phase," during
which he went from being an underground hero to living
underground. As a wanted criminal he couldn't skate at contests
for fear of being arrested. He would still occasionally do demos
outside the U.S., particularly in Japan, where vert skating was
still popular and where Christian was assured a steady supply of
good shabu, as speed is called in Japan.
Without professional skating, there was no longer any reason for
Christian to get off the pipe. "He would have four strippers come
over, party with them and do more speed," says skateboarder Tony
Converse. "And before we knew it, that scene extinguished what
Christian Hosoi had been."
Tony Hawk lounges by a kidney-shaped pool in the backyard of his
five-bedroom home in Encinitas, Calif. This pool is full of
water, and two of his sons are jumping in and out of the heated,
chlorinated soup. Behind us, on the other side of the guesthouse,
is where the 36-year-old Hawk hopes to build another pool. This
one will never hold water, though--it will be his private
skatepark. Inside the house and parked in his driveway are other
manifestations of no-worries wealth: a giant plasma TV, Italian
furniture, Lexuses and SUVs. Hawk is as humble as any superstar
athlete you will meet, and as he plays lifeguard on this April
morning, he says Christian should also be enjoying this
lifestyle. "We were all so young, making a lot of money, being
rock stars.... You don't think it's going to end. But when the
sport took a dip, a lot of guys couldn't handle it. I didn't fall
into the trap of celebrity and partying and burning out, so when
things turned back around, I was one of the only guys from that
generation still skating hard."
Hawk's reversal of fortune can be traced to a programming
decision made nine years ago by ESPN, which was looking to tap
into the thriving alternative sports market. The networks had
noticed that the skateboarding demographic was the audience every
company from Mountain Dew to Nike was looking to reach. In 1995,
in an effort to tap into this elusive market, producer Ron Semiao
created the Extreme Games--a showcase of alternative sports: BMX,
inline skating, rock climbing and, centrally, skateboarding. Most
skaters ridiculed the Extreme Games concept as yet another lame
attempt by the mainstream to cash in on skating, and said that
ESPN's decision to prominently feature vertical skating instead
of street skating proved just how whack these so-called Extreme
Games would be. Yet vert skating, ESPN correctly predicted, was
more telegenic than street skating, and easier for nonskaters to
understand. Anyone who had watched Olympic gymnastics or figure
skating could appreciate the aerial tricks of the best vert
ESPN needed personalities to sell the X Games, as the Extreme
Games soon came to be called, and very quickly singled out Tony
Hawk and Christian Hosoi as the main characters in the "drama" of
vert skating. A crew was dispatched to collect footage of Hawk
and Hosoi, interviews were conducted and then long profiles of
each athlete were aired repeatedly on ESPN to hype the first X
Games, in Newport, R.I. Both skaters had, of course, agreed to
compete in Newport, and both were eager to revisit their rivalry.
It had been a long time since anyone had cared this much about
"We knew this was going to be big for all of us," says Hawk. "It
was televised, so even if the actual competition was going to be
lame, there was huge prize money and exposure. But then Christian
said he wasn't going to go."
Christian didn't explain why he wasn't going to Newport, but he
had a very good reason for skipping the event: He knew that
bounty hunters were on his trail, and had he shown up in Newport,
he would have been arrested.
"Christian should have been the rock star of the X Games," says
Duncan. "If he had been there, he would have become a media star
and been making millions of dollars today."
The games made Hawk a household name--announcers called him the
"Michael Jordan of skateboarding"--and a mini-industry. His
skateboard and gear company posted revenues of more than $50
million a year throughout the late '90s, his autobiography became
a bestseller and Tony Hawk Underground was one of the top-selling
video games of 2003. "Christian should have been there," Hawk
says, shaking his head and helping his son Spencer out of the
pool. "He would have been the star of the X Games, and he could
have ridden this wave with me."
A pound and a half of crystal meth looks like a slice of greasy
Lucite the size of a paperback novel. Christian picked up the
slab and weighed it in his hand as the dealer said, "Haul it to
Hawaii for me, bro--a little aloha from the mainland." It was
January 2000, and Christian had been thinking about heading back
to Honolulu. For several months his friends had been telling him,
"Dude, you don't look so good," and he had convinced himself that
it would be easier to get off speed in Hawaii, away from all the
negative influences in Orange County. He could carry this package
to Hawaii, and with his cut could afford to chill out for a few
months. Who knows? Maybe he would even start skating seriously
again, see if the Japanese were interested in flying him over for
some demos. Never mind, for a moment, the logic of trying to
sober up just after delivering enough speed to wire all of Oahu.
It never crossed his mind that maybe he was finally flying too
If you had been on that United Airlines flight from Los Angeles
to Honolulu on Jan. 26, 2000, you would have been praying that
this gaunt, unshaven, pock-marked, wide-eyed Asian-American
walking down the aisle with a skateboard in his hand wasn't
seated next to you. His cheekbones, always starkly defined, now
seemed to be on the verge of pushing through sallow skin, and his
cheeks were flecked with scabs from picking at himself during
long meth jags. Christian had smoked a few pipes of speed on the
way to the airport, and when he got on the plane, he locked
himself in the bathroom and snorted another line. He waved away
the flight attendant when she offered him the in-flight meal.
When the plane touched down, Christian practically sprinted to
baggage claim and then ground his teeth as he waited for his bags
to come tumbling down the chute. As he absentmindedly picked at
his face, Christian reminisced about climbing tall trees when he
was a kid. That had been liberating, he recalled wistfully.
You're up there, nothing in the world to be afraid of because
it's just you and the tree, your weight on the branch, and you
can feel, almost instinctively, whether a branch can support you,
and as you step out--
"Excuse me, sir, where did you fly in from today?" A stout man in
a blue T-shirt and tan slacks interrupted Christian's reverie.
"What do you do for a living? May I see your ticket? Can you hear
me or what?"
"I left my ticket on the plane," Christian told the plainclothes
"Sorry," Christian said, "I don't have to show you that. And I
have to go now."
"Without your bags?"
"You are being detained," the officer said. He put a heavy hand
on Christian's shoulder and led him to a barren security office
on the airport's lower level, where Christian was seated on a
bench next to a desk on which someone had left a Styrofoam
takeout box with chicken bones and some unfinished potato salad.
A few other agents gathered as the arresting officer began to
search Christian, who was still holding his skateboard and
wearing his new signature-line shoes. (He had just signed a deal
with a distributor in Japan.) The agent found the meth in
Christian's hipsack and held it up to the light, letting it hang
in the baggie like a prize fish he had caught. "Do you have any
idea how much trouble you're in?"
Christian Hosoi was finally coming down. He pleaded guilty to
possession with intent to distribute and was sentenced to 10
years in prison. He was 32 years old.
To see Christian in prison, I have to drive east from Dogtown
through downtown Los Angeles, then West Covina, Azusa, Palmdale
and Upland, past dozens of Del Tacos and strip malls and
long-closed skateparks to a desolate exit where the only hint
that you are near a jail is the sudden riot of signage offering
bail-bond services. At the reception window I fill out a visit
request form for booking number 0402301190. Then I pass through a
metal detector and wait in a large room lined on three sides by
plexiglass, with partitions that divide the perimeter into
semiprivate cubicles, like open-air confessionals. A chubby
mother in a Simpsons T-shirt tells her two rambunctious boys to
keep quiet. Two men with shorn heads are warily looking around.
Finally, a line of orange-jumpsuit-clad men file into the
room--on the opposite side of the glass--and sit down. Visitors
scurry from booth to booth until they find whom they've come to
see, then both visitor and prisoner pick up the intercom phones
and start talking.
Christian is one of the last prisoners to sit down. His thick
black hair has thinned and his face is fleshier than it was in
the '80s. He has put on weight in prison, and with his dark hair
and complexion he looks like yet another Mexican father doomed to
catch only glimpses from behind bulletproof glass of his children
growing up. At 36 he is more than a decade removed from his
athletic prime. Though he totes a Bible and launches into long
discourses on how he's blessed to be doing God's will, and says
that he has no regrets because this was the path that put him in
touch with Jesus, there is a weariness in his eyes.
He insists he never thinks about whether it should be him sitting
by that pool in Encinitas, banking those fat video-game
royalties. "I don't dwell on the past," he says. "That was Tony's
journey, and God bless him. This is the path the Lord has set me
on, and I am grateful that I will be able to use my name and my
skating as my key." [Because of good behavior, he could be
released in early June.] He says that when he gets out, he will
use his skating to preach the word of God. "I can't wait to skate
again. Kids will see me, and I can represent Christ. I want to
acknowledge him in everything I do."
Christian Hosoi will skate again. Within a few days of being
released, one of his friends will take him to a pool or a ramp or
a skatepark. (A group of fellow skaters in Santa Ana has already
built a 40-foot-wide halfpipe in preparation for the resurrection
of Christ.) He will be tentative at first as he becomes
reacclimated to the feel of the grip tape under his sneakers, the
urethane wheels rumbling over wood or concrete, the way his body
feels as it moves through the transition to vertical. Whenever he
skates, wherever he skates, word will spread and a crowd will
gather. Fathers and mothers will explain to their children, and
older siblings will tell younger brothers and sisters who this
is. And Christian, inspired by the crowd, and still a showman,
will push himself. And after a few runs, a few carves and then
grinds and then rock-and-rolls, he will once again launch aerials
off of a ramp or out of a pool. He will again take flight.
And then, he insists, he will gather the children around him and
tell them about Christ--Jesus Christ--and he will start his
parable by talking about a boy who was not afraid to go too high.
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