Images courtesy of J. Grant Brittain
Errol Flynn was a renowned womanizing, freewheeling, brawling, drunken bastard of a man. In 1933 he starred as protagonist Fletcher Christian in the film adaptation of Mutiny on the Bounty; he played the role so beatifically that the name Christian grew in popularity from the 600th most popular name of that generation to within the top 50 in just a few years. Countless people started naming their male children Christian. One of them was Christian Hosoi.
Like Flynn, Hosoi was destined for early fame and fortune, and soon led a life peppered with the trappings of both. He burst onto the fledgling professional skateboard scene in 1980 at the tender age of 13, with an almost superhuman ability to loft himself and his skateboard into the air well higher than most. His flowing mane of curly black hair, an easy smile, and a diminutive but chiseled physique cast him as a ready-made rock-star and a marketable rebel, positioned in the pop spectrum somewhere between Jim Morrison and Bruce Lee. He soon signed lucrative endorsement deals with the likes of Converse, Jimmy’z, and Swatch, earning the high school dropout hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual earnings (something unheard of in the ’80s). His face adorned the bedroom walls of millions of young fans. His rivalry with then upstart Tony Hawk was the stuff of legends and tales of their epic battles at fabled cement colosseums like Del Mar and Pipeline linger to this day. He traveled the world, shattered world records, and invented moves previously considered impossible, like the Christ Air, where he temporarily renders himself a flying crucifix, his board having somehow gone from his feet to his outstretched hand.
Then, like his namesake, his vices got the better of him. His flirtation with drugs, which started early in his life, became more serious—first cocaine, then crack, then crystal meth.
“I was taking acid at like 12 and 13, eating mushrooms here and there, but then at 15 I started using cocaine.”
We caught up with him recently while he was driving through Hawaii’s sugarcane fields on a shoot for one of his new sponsors, Quiksilver. On the phone he sounds genuine, passionate, and somewhat self-deprecating. He is articulate and quick witted. It is obvious he is smart.
“I quit cocaine at 17 when I started [my board company] because it was messing up my game. I never used any more hard drugs after that. I only smoked marijuana until I was 21 or 22, so…and then, right around ’91, skateboarding took a dive.” Around the time Nirvana broke into the pop charts with their grungy lyrics and talk of social dysfunction, the bottom dropped out of the sport of skateboarding. Old heroes were buried and new ones took their place. Vert skating became passe. Street skating and anarchy took its place. The sport evolved. Christian did too.
“And that right there is when I started Milk Skateboard Goods and went into sponsoring street kids. And I got introduced to Meth at the time. You know, I was doing a little crack here and there, but it really wasn’t my drug…a little heroin too, but I really wasn’t interested, but then I found meth and I was like, “Wow. This is my kind of drug.” It was kind of like a coffee drug at first, until I started using it more and more to the point where I was [totally] dependent on it. By ’95, I had moved down to Huntington Beach and I was using on an everyday basis, and was completely dependent on it until January of 2000, which is when I got arrested.
“So for five years, I was kind of in and out of skateboarding…showing up at backyard pool parties and really, I forfeited a whole career to go into an underground party scene and do crystal meth. Basically, not knowing who I was anymore, I was just trying to find a thing called love. I was looking for love, and I was searching for it in all the wrong places. I was obviously hurting somewhere, and I was trying to figure it out.”
Carrying over a pound of crystal meth, he was arrested at the airport in Hawaii, charged, and convicted of possession with the intent to distribute. He was sentenced to 10 years in San Bernadino prison. Despair and self-pity brought reality into focus. In a wicked twist of fate, his girlfriend (now wife) Jennifer, who had vowed to get clean after one of her close friends ODed at her house, brought Christianity to him as an option. “I called her from jail saying, ‘I got arrested. And I’m looking at like, 10 years prison time.’ You know, what do you say to that? All she could say was, ‘I love you, and we’re gonna try and get through this, but we just gotta trust in God.’ And I’m like, ‘God?’ I’m sitting here crying on the phone and I’m thinkin’ ‘I need a lawyer! Not God.’”
Over the course of his five years in prison (his sentenced was reduced for good behavior) he studied the Scripture, and the Bible was his constant companion. He matured, found peace in the situation through his spirituality, and found a measure of himself in his faith, even joining the prison choir and helping other prisoners explore their faiths. Although he admits he did have some help. “When I got there, everybody saw me on the news and all the inmates expect me to come walking through the door. And here I come, walking through the door and they’re like, ‘No way! That’s Christian Hosoi! What’s up?!’ And I’m like, ‘Oh….god! I’m in here for 10 years, I’m a little stressed out…can you help me out?’ They’re in there for 120 years for murder, and they’re telling me, ‘Oh, it’s gonna be a walk in the park! Christian, no worries! You’re short time here.’”
Within two weeks of his release, he was back on a board and flying. His natural abilities made his time away from the sport seem like a blip in time, and ironically, his release came after skateboarding had come full circle. Vert skating had by then come back in favor, with televised events on the networks, multi-million dollar endorsement deals, and the familiar face of Tony Hawk in every toy store in America. In the two years since his release, a feature-length documentary has been released about his life. He is back in the game with sponsorship deals with some of the biggest brands. His company, Hosoi Skateboards, is up and running again with new distribution and industry buzz behind it. He is flying high again, but his faith grounds him.
Asked what the future holds, he replies with ease. “I’m going out to this big evangelistic outreach at an arena with Steven Baldwin called the Breakthrough Ministry with my pastor, Jay Haysworth, and we’re just going out there to preach the gospel. P.O.D.’s gonna be playing… and for the rest of our lives, that’s probably what we’re gonna be doing, these big Christian events. And we have a thing called the Uprising at our church, and we travel around with a band named Called to Glory, preach the gospel with pro skateboarders like Ray Barbee, Brian Sumner, Richard Mulder, Lance Mountain, Andre Genovesse, Jereme Rogers, (Steve) Caballero’s gonna be comin’ on tour with us…huge name people who are just psyched on skateboarding, psyched on Jesus, but have a big influence on the skateboarding youth culture. So to be able to use that platform to be able to share the Gospel with people, there’s nothing better than that.”
And so, in one of those stranger-than-fiction stories life often produces, it turns out the man who invented the Christ Air didn’t just invent it, he found it; and Christ has helped the man re-invent himself.