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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 20 th 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 with school.' "
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 Monta�o, 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."